Back when the Giants were deciding whether or not to go to arbitration with Tim Lincecum, there was a lot of saber rattling to sign him to a huge deal. Lock him up for a million billion years, the thought went, and put some garlic around his neck so the Yankees can’t get to him.
The Giants already have Lincecum under team control for three more seasons, though, and it’s Lincecum who bears most of the risk, as the last two years aren’t guaranteed. If the Giants were to sign him to a five-year-deal, Lincecum would probably give up some expected salary for 2012 and 2013 in exchange for those turning those two arbitration years into guaranteed scratch. You have to make a decision between the freedom from commitment, and the possibility that the freedom might cost you a chance to keep the player from free agency several years down the road.
So, with that written, let’s agree on some ground rules: It will never, ever, ever, never, ever, ever, ever never be a good idea to give any Giant a ten-year contract. Not Lincecum, not Buster Posey. Not Brandon Belt, not Matt Cain. Not Will Clark after secret government reverse-aging experiments, and not the ghost of Christy Mathewson. No. That player you’re thinking of right now: No.
Well, maybe Derek Jeter this offseason, but I’m talking about retaining our own players right now.
Let's play the game, "What if the Giants had locked them up for ten years when they were 26?" with some Giants greats:
- Orlando Cepeda – He missed almost an entire season with a knee injury when he was 27, though he was still performing at an All-Star level for a couple of years after he came back. By the time he was 30, though, he would not have been worth 15% to 20% of the total payroll, and he would have been a complete albatross toward the end of his deal .
- Juan Marichal – Obviously, pitchers are a different story, but Marichal only had one superlative season after he turned 31. His career is what we feared from Barry Zito when that contract was signed – an injury-riddled ride into the sunset. It turns out that Zito is as healthy as a horse, but that horse’s name happens to be Mark Gardner.
- Will Clark – He never stopped hitting, but he missed about 40 to 50 games per year in his 30s. If the Giants were paying him superstar wages, they’d only be getting a return on the investment when he was in the lineup.
- Willie McCovey – Similar story to Clark. He could always hit, but he was never a lock to stay healthy in his 30s. For the last half of the contract, the Giants would essentially be paying McCovey money for 70% of McCovey and 30% of Ed Goodson.
- Willie Mays – He would have been a bargain for every year of the deal. He stayed healthy, and he stayed amazing.
- Barry Bonds – That would have worked out okay, I guess.
So I’m sure that Rockies fans are thrilled that Troy Tulowitski is going to be a Rockie for the next decade. Once players were freed from the indentured servitude of the pre-free-agency era, one-team players like Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn became rare. It’s nice to see a team lock down a favorite son for the bulk of his remaining career. Now all the Rockies have to hope for is that he ages like Willie Mays or Barry Bonds, and not like a standard, run-of-the-mill kind of Hall-of-Famer. No big deal.
The two closest comps for Tulowitski, according to Baseball Reference: Ernie Banks and Vern Stephens. Banks wouldn't have been a total train wreck, though he wasn't nearly as valuable when he was moved to first base, but I can’t help but stare at the page for Stephens and wonder what a nightmare it would have been to to pay him a fourth or fifth of the payroll until he was 37. So here’s hoping that the Giants are of a similar mind. No seven-, eight-, nine-, or ten-year deals for anyone. Ever.
Well, maybe Posey…
And, man, it would be a nightmare to watch Lincecum in another uniform.
Okay, I can see how these kinds of contracts can be seductive. Still, stay strong, Giants. No.