Lincecum's arbitration hearing in question

Lincecum's arbitration hearing in question

SAN FRANCISCO -- An hour after Friday's arbitration hearing between the Giants and Tim Lincecum was scheduled to begin, Lincecum and his agent were seen talking outside the hearing room in St. Petersburg, Fla., lending credence to reports that the ace pitcher was considering a new offer from the Giants.

Despite reports of a multiyear contract offer from the Giants, Lincecum appeared headed for a salary arbitration hearing with his employers.

An industry executive familiar with the proceedings indicated to MLB.com on Thursday that the sides probably would not forge a compromise on the Giants' proposal. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that the club offered Lincecum a three-year, $37-million package on Wednesday featuring salaries of $9.5 million this year, $12.5 million in 2011 and $15 million in 2012. The two-time National League Cy Young Award winner and his representatives reportedly responded with a counteroffer exceeding $40 million.

Giants officials and Lincecum's agents continued negotiating Thursday, prompting the executive to say that a deal averting the hearing remained possible. But given the economic disparities separating the sides, he added that the scheduled showdown looked more like a reality. In that event, a panel of three arbiters would select either Lincecum's requested one-year salary of $13 million or the Giants' $8 million bid, after listening to pitches from each side.

If the Giants and Lincecum suddenly decide to meet at the midpoint between the filings, as clubs often do with players bound for a hearing, he would earn $10.5 million -- the largest salary ever for a third-year Major Leaguer. The third-year ceiling, $10 million, was reached by Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard, who won his 2008 arbitration case, and then-Yankees slugger Alfonso Soriano (2006) and then-Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez (2008), who lost theirs.

Even if Lincecum "loses" the hearing, which he plans on attending, his $8 million consolation prize would establish a record for a first-time arbitration-eligible pitcher. Boston closer Jonathan Papelbon set that standard last January when he avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $6.25 million base salary.

In a hearing, the Giants would be in the unenviable position of having to find fault with his performance, which includes a 33-12 record, a 2.55 ERA and 526 strikeouts in 452 1/3 innings in the past two seasons. The hugely popular 25-year-old who will adorn their 2010 media guide cover -- reflecting, quite literally, his status as the face of the franchise -- and so it is more likely San Francisco officals would point out that they're willing to make Lincecum history's highest-paid first-time arbitration-eligible player.

Giants representatives also might note that Lincecum's achievements, though unique, don't differ that much from those of Dontrelle Willis, who avoided a hearing with Florida in 2006 by agreeing to a one-year, $4.35 million contract. Willis was 46-27 at that point in his career -- Lincecum's 40-17 -- and was coming off a 22-10 finish for the Marlins.

Lincecum's side might not feel compelled to say much to the arbiters. They conceivably could follow the approach a veteran Chicago sports writer supposedly took when he placed Walter Payton's name in nomination for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. According to legend, instead of delivering a grandiose speech listing the running back's accomplishments, the writer simply said, "Gentlemen, Walter Payton."

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.