Lincecum fell short of the $10 million level for this year and thus didn't eclipse Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard as the highest-paid third-year player in Major League history. He still became the richest first-time arbitration-eligible pitcher ever, exceeding the standard set by Jonathan Papelbon last January, when the Boston closer avoided arbitration by agreeing to a $6.25 million base salary.
The Giants will be saddled with $43.5 million in contract obligations to just three players next year: Lincecum, left-hander Barry Zito ($18.5 million) and center fielder Aaron Rowand ($12 million). But San Francisco attained a measure of cost certainty by "buying out" two of Lincecum's four arbitration seasons. The right-hander will become eligible for free agency after the 2013 season.
San Francisco also avoided compromising with Lincecum on an eight-figure deal for 2010, which might have changed baseball's economic landscape. Had the sides gone to a hearing, the arbitration panel would have had to select either the Giants' bid or Lincecum's.
"Any time there's a settlement, it's a 'win-win.' That's what you want," said Giants vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans, who performed the bulk of the club's negotiations.
The sides had discussed various multiyear contract structures. Lincecum and his agent, Rick Thurman, rejected the first offer, a two-year proposal worth around $20 million. More recently, the Giants reportedly offered a three-year, $37 million deal, prompting Lincecum and his agents to seek a package exceeding $40 million.
Though negotiations intensified Thursday, Friday dawned with Lincecum's hearing scheduled for 9:30 a.m. ET in St. Petersburg, Fla. Lincecum, his father, Chris, and Thurman gathered at a hotel meeting room with Evans and a handful of other club representatives. Giants managing general partner Bill Neukom was not present.
With the proceedings about to begin, according to Evans, Lincecum's group suddenly left the room. The meeting was delayed as Lincecum's party asked to speak to Evans. At that point, contract talks resumed -- an 11th-hour phenomenon that often ends arbitration cases, since the hearings are potentially adversarial and distasteful to both sides.
Evans estimated that negotiations lasted for about an hour and a half before an accord was reached. Regarding what made Lincecum's side return to the two-year framework, Evans said, "You'll have to ask them. I don't know."
Neither Lincecum nor Thurman could be reached for comment. Other Giants officials declined to speak publicly, since Lincecum's contract is not yet official. In fact, the Giants strayed from club policy by declaring that an agreement had been reached before Lincecum took his physical exam. But the prevailing atmosphere, featuring the team's highest-profile player approaching an arbitration hearing, led the club to announce the deal.
In town last week for the Giants' FanFest and related functions, Lincecum repeated that opposing the club in a hearing would not disturb him, perhaps aware that management would find it virtually impossible to criticize his performance. Lincecum was 33-12 with a 2.55 ERA and 526 strikeouts in 452 1/3 innings in the last two seasons.
"I'll try to take it as constructive criticism," Lincecum said.