Tim Lincecum's first four Major League seasons have included two NL Cy Young Awards, three consecutive NL strikeout titles and a World Series ring. Not bad for a "freak" that fell to the 10th pick of the 2006 draft due to concerns about his throwing motion.
The Giants have already struck gold with the 26-year-old and now the only question seems to be the length of Lincecum's next deal with the team. The right-hander signed a two-year, $23MM contract before the 2010 season that covered his first two arbitration years, but as a Super Two player, Lincecum will have two more arb years remaining before he finally reaches free agency after the 2013 season.
By the end of 2011, Lincecum will have a bit more than four years of Major League service time to his name. Lincecum will no doubt be looking for an extension that at least matches the largest deal given to a pitcher between four and five years of service time -- Justin Verlander's five-year, $80MM deal with the Tigers, signed before the 2010 season. Let's compare the key stats of the two pitchers over their first three-plus years in the majors:
Verlander: 4.11 ERA, 97 starts, 600 IP, 477 Ks, 1.33 WHIP, 2.65 K/BB, 8.7 H/9, 0.9 HR/9, 3.3 BB/9, 7.2 K/9
Lincecum: 3.04 ERA, 122 starts, 811 IP, 907 Ks, 1.18 WHIP, 3.1 K/BB, 7.4 H/9, 0.6 HR/9, 3.3 BB/9, 10.1 K/9
Lincecum clearly has the stronger resume of the two men at similar points in their careers, though of course Verlander delivered a superb 2009 season before signing his extension. If Lincecum delivers just his average season in 2011 (3.04 ERA, 30 starts, 203 IP, 227 Ks, and the same decimal stats as listed earlier), his four-year numbers and his postseason heroics will net him a larger deal. Five years and $85MM seems like the minimum for any extension.
We heard last week from Brian Sabean that he didn't expect any long-term negotiations with Lincecum to take place during the season. There's no pressure on the Giants to get something done quickly, of course, plus it may behoove the club to see how Lincecum performs in 2011. Lincecum's ERA jumped to 3.43 last season and his peripherals also weren't as strong as in his two Cy Young years. Still, it was far from a down season, as Lincecum was terrific down the stretch (a 1.94 ERA in six September starts) and through the playoffs as the Giants won the World Series.
San Francisco will have a lot of decisions to make about their pitching staff over the next few seasons. Matt Cain's deal is up after 2012, Jonathan Sanchez has one year of arbitration left, and the team might look to get cost certainty through Madison Bumgarner's arb years, though Bumgarner (another Super Two) isn't eligible for arbitration until after 2012. Barring an injury or a big setback in 2011, Lincecum's track record and his position as the face of the franchise will ensure that his contract is dealt with first.