It's difficult to comprehend how the Giants might attempt to demean Lincecum, 25. The right-hander became not only the fourth National Leaguer to win the Cy Young Award in consecutive seasons but also the franchise's premier performer, capably filling the void left by all-time home run leader Barry Bonds.
But minimizing Lincecum's achievements would indeed be the Giants' task if they hope to have arbiters settle on the $8 million they offered for a one-year salary. Lincecum filed for $13 million, which would be the highest sum awarded to a first-year arbitration-eligible player. Teams and players typically compromise, but once they enter the hearing, all negotiating ends and the arbiters must select one figure or the other. In Lincecum's case, the vast $5 million gulf between the sides increases the challenge of forging a pre-hearing compromise.
A close associate of Lincecum's said earlier this week that the Giants ace was approaching this process with his typically easygoing attitude -- "Business 101," the person said. Lincecum indeed exuded calm when he was asked if the apparently impending clash with the Giants angered him.
"I think the business side of it is what we're scraping at right now," said Lincecum, who earned $650,000 last year. "Going through arbitration, everybody knows what can happen and the feelings that can get hurt. I'm just trying to keep an open mind. If anybody knows my flaws, I do. If they're going to point them out and that has to happen, then whatever. I know I have to get better. It's not like my feelings are hurt."
That's easy to say now, before the hearing that must be held by Feb. 20. What about afterward?
"I try not to have ill feelings about anything," insisted Lincecum, who plans on attending the hearing. "... The whole purpose is to help the team win. It's not about a grudge match."
Don't mistake Lincecum's placid outlook as outright indifference. He doesn't speak to his agent, Rick Thurman, each day. But he's monitoring the situation. Lincecum said that he's "not being too oblivious to everything, but not getting too involved either. I'll let my agent do his job and I'll just do mine."
One ominous item of evidence the Giants could use against Lincecum is the charge brought against him for misdemeanor marijuana possession. Not even that prospect was enough to boil Lincecum's blood.
"If they do [raise the subject], I just know that's one thing I said I'm going to not let happen again," he said. "I feel like I've made a step forward from it and I've become a better person from it. I have to stop making stupid decisions. ... It's like, it's time to grow up now."
Giants manager Bruce Bochy wasn't the least bit worried about Lincecum's attitude.
"Knowing Timmy, he'll be fine," Bochy said.
Lincecum addressed other subjects, including:
His hair, which was slightly shorter. He said that he trimmed it three inches for the recent Baseball Writers' Association of America dinner in New York, where he received his 2009 Cy Young trophy. "It looked unhealthy," Lincecum said of his pre-dinner 'do.
Catcher Bengie Molina's return. "He's half the reason I got those [Cy Young] awards," Lincecum said. "Sometimes you lose your focus out there, and sometimes the catcher has to come out there and tell you, 'Hey, wake up.' He's always there for me. He reads me really well."
His Cy Young hardware, which happened to be sitting in the back of his car as he spoke. He intends to give his 2008 trophy to his father, Chris, who has served as his pitching mentor. "Maybe Bengie and I will split the other one," Lincecum said.