MLB has big stake in Lincecum Affair

According to a couple of Buster's tweets, Major League Baseball will take the lead role for the Giants in the Tim Lincecum arbitration hearing tomorrow. Craig Calcaterra's take:

    In light of all that this proceeding seems less like a dispute about the value of Tim Lincecum's services to the Giants and more like a proxy war with the union and MLB playing the role of the Soviets and the U.S. -- take your pick as to who's who -- and Lincecum and the Giants playing the role of some rightest regime and leftist insurgency. It's more about politics than it is about the conditions on the ground.Which is understandable, I suppose. Major League Baseball obviously wants to do everything it can to keep a high-salary precedent from being set and the union obviously wants a new high-salary bogey benchmark. In light of that I assume that all of five minutes will be spent on Lincecum's stats with the rest of it being spent in intellectual debate as to what, in an ideal world, the best arbitration-eligible player should make.

    Which may be fun -- livin' on an abstract plain can be fun -- but I can't help but think that the arbitration process was designed to avoid these sorts of political disputes and, rather, to provide a streamlined mechanism for Player A and Team B to agree on a salary without all the drama.

As I understand it, the arbitration process was designed to accomplish two things: 1) for the owners, to delay free agency for as long as possible, and 2) for the young players, to avoid the hassle of spring-training holdouts, which at one time was fairly routine. I don't think arbitration was intended to avoid these sorts of political disputes, simply because I don't imagine anyone envisioned these sorts of political disputes. In the 1970s, I don't believe even Marvin Miller dreamed that a baby-faced hippie like Tim Lincecum would someday command $10 million for one season.

The news about MLB's involvement does help explain the Giants' lowball offer. Two years ago, Ryan Howard's case went to arbitration. The figures were $10 million and $7 million. Howard, coming off two excellent seasons, got his $10 million.

So that seems to me like the baseline: $10 million for a first-time arbitration-eligible player coming off two excellent seasons. Which describes Lincecum well enough, I suppose (leaving aside the fact that his seasons were more excellent than Howard's). So why would the Giants file at $8 million? Perhaps because MLB asked them to.

Giants: "How are we supposed to defend $8 million when Howard got $10 million two years ago?"

MLB: "Don't worry your pretty little heads. We'll defend it."

The Giants don't have a lot to lose. Sure, this will probably cost them between $1 million and $3 million: the difference between the $13 million Lincecum will probably win and what they otherwise would have paid him. But the enmity that these things generate is greatly exaggerated, and I suspect that's particularly true in this case, since it will mostly be Major League Baseball, rather than the Giants, explaining to an arbitrator why Lincecum's not really as good as those two Cy Young Awards.

By the way, good luck with that.