Rounding the Bases: Lincecum, Thomas and Glavine

MlbHlSqThere may still be some ice around in the UK, and I hear there’s been a small covering of snow in some parts of the U.S. as well over the past week, but Spring Training is just around the corner for Major League teams. 

Sometimes I wonder how we cope without daily baseball updates.  Soon enough we’ll be hearing the good old stories of players who are in ‘the best shape of their lives’, pitchers who are going to work on a new pitch during Spring Training (95 per cent of the time being discarded when the serious stuff begins) and a veteran or two hoping to roll back the years and earn a Major League roster spot once again.

Two veterans who will not be battling for a job are Frank Thomas and Tom Glavine, both of whom announced their retirements this week.  Those were the two main stories of the last seven days as the transactions slowed down to a trickle.  They key deals were not involving players moving to new teams, but players coming to terms with their current clubs on a contract for 2010, and in some cases beyond. 

Lincecum lands the loot

Tim Lincecum and the San Francisco Giants narrowly avoided an arbitration hearing on Friday when they agreed a two-year deal at the very last moment. 

San Francisco vs St. Louis Cardinals

The hearing was all scheduled to begin before the Lincecum party decided to re-start negotiations with the Giants and they eventually struck a deal without needing the arbitration panel to step in. 

The two-year deal is worth $23m (£14.7m) in total and his basic salary this year will be $8m, which is the figure that the Giants had filed for the arbitration hearing.  That makes the end result look like a win for the Giants, although pocketing a guaranteed sum of $23m doesn’t exactly make Lincecum a loser.  He reportedly turned down a three-year offer worth $37m earlier in the week, so his side would appear to have a long-term plan that will benefit from returning to negotiations two years down the line, when the starting pitcher will still have two arbitration-eligible years left. 

Maybe they will look for a lucrative five-year deal then, allowing him to pocket another sizeable chunk of guaranteed money before becoming a free agent at the age of 33?  If the Giants don’t bite on a multi-year deal at that point, Lincecum could go through potentially block-busting arbitration deals in 2012 and 2013 and hit the free agent market at 30.  Either way, taking a two-year deal leaves plenty of options open and guarantees Lincecum a tidy sum. 

He’s certainly got more than enough money to afford to have a haircut.

Corey cashes in

The vast majority of cases are settled before an arbitration hearing is needed, not least because it can be quite a dispiriting exercise with the club essentially having to argue why the player isn’t as good as he thinks he is. 

Still, arbitration can work out very well for players and the most notable example of this has been Corey Hart, who won his case against the Milwaukee Brewers and bagged himself a $4.8m salary for 2010.  That was $700k more than what the Brewers thought he was worth, which is not to be sneezed at and also helps to set his salary bar higher for next year.  Players can normally count on getting a raise from the arbitration process, with only a lengthy injury or an outright terrible performance liable to knock them back at all.  Hart earned $3.25m last year and didn’t have much of a season, playing in only 115 games due to injuries and batting .260/.335/.418.  Give a lot of credit to his agent for turning that into a $1.55m raise.

The Big Hurt bids us farewell

Frank Thomas will always be remembered as a Chicago White Sox player and that’s the cap that will be on his head when he is inducted into Cooperstown four years from now after he announced his retirement yesterday. 

Frank Thomas #35

My main memories of him naturally come from his season with the A’s in 2006. It was the only time in the last 6 years that the A’s have made the postseason and Thomas’ contribution was a crucial factor in this.

I was excited when it was announced that the A’s had signed Thomas and in some ways I was being overly optimistic.  He would be 38 that year and had played in only 108 games for the White Sox in 2004 and 2005 combined due to injuries. There were also some concerns over his attitude as he had reportedly burned his bridges with manager Ozzie Guillen, although that doesn’t seem the hardest thing in the world to do.  Despite his undoubted pedigree, there were no guarantees that Thomas would be an effective performer for the A’s that year.

My optimism was based on the fact that he had a point to prove to a few people and it was clear that if he could stay healthy, he could be a dangerous bat to add into our lineup.  Yes, his ability to take the field (or the batter’s box at least) was a big ‘if’, but it was well worth a punt for an initial investment of just $500k.  Either he would be an inexpensive mistake or an absolute steal.

In just a few weeks’ time, we’ll be able to sit back and enjoy listening to Spring Training games via Gameday Audio on  They don’t count for anything, but any live baseball seems like a godsend after the long winter months and you get the added benefit of hearing about your team’s new recruits and young prospects. 

Frank Thomas’ Spring Training debut in an A’s uniform was therefore an unmissable event for me. I don’t remember the final score, in fact I don’t even remember who we were playing, but I can shut my eyes and instantly recall the excitement of listening to the Big Hurt crushing a home run in just his second at-bat.  Thomas also launched a home run off Randy Johnson in the A’s regular season opener against the Yankees, although getting pounded by a final score of 15-2 somewhat took the edge off the joy on that occasion (Barry Zito gave up 7 runs in 1.1 innings, for the record).

After those encouraging early signs, Thomas went on to have an excellent season.  He smacked 39 home runs and batted in 114 runs over 137 games.  With Nick Swisher coming of age with a 35 homer season (a tally he hasn’t matched since) and Eric Chavez performing well in over 137 games (the exact same total as Thomas, coincidentally enough), the A’s were able to put together a good offense and matched it with decent pitching to propel them to the AL West title. 

Thomas went deep twice in the ALDS opener against the Twins and the A’s went on to sweep the series, only to then be swept by the Tigers in the ALCS. 

The downside to Thomas’ season was that it put him out of the A’s financial reach.  He went on to sign a two-year deal with the Toronto Blue Jays worth $18m, while the A’s tried to strike it lucky with a veteran bat for a second time by signing Mike Piazza.  That move didn’t work out so well and the A’s haven’t replaced Thomas’ bat since; however, you can’t blame General Manager Billy Beane too much for that.  Few players of recent memory could match up to the Big Hurt at the plate and that’s why, even though he spent a considerable amount of time as a DH, he should be a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.

Glavine goes out too

Tom Glavine also announced his retirement this week.  The legendary pitcher was frustrated at the way his career ended after injuries stopped him from competing at all last year, but I think it’s turned out for the best.  Not playing in 2009 means that he can be inducted into Cooperstown alongside former teammate Greg Maddux, which just seems right.

Glavine had a fantastic career and will be remembered for his bulldog spirit as much as anything. While the announcement of his retirement made others reminisce about his great moments on the mound, I’m reminded of the completely bizarre ceremony that the New York Mets laid on for him to celebrate his 300th career win.

As I put it at the time:

things got even better for Tom on Sunday when the Mets staged a pre-game ceremony honouring the starter. It looked less like Glavine had reached a tremendous landmark and more like he had just won a TV Quiz show. There were a few gifts to start with, such as a decorative plaque on which 300 golf balls spelt out “300”, a glass plate signed by his team mates, and a pair of hockey jerseys. Then came the “Bullseye” moment: two jet skis and a sparkling SUV. No doubt they made all the sacrifices seem worthwhile!

I don’t mean to sound all high and mighty, but it was one of the least dignified celebrations of a sporting achievement that I’ve ever seen.  Thankfully it was undignified in a hilarious way, so I still look back on it with bemused fondness.  Maybe he’ll drive to Cooperstown in that SUV?  Hopefully he’ll take the jet skis along for the ride as well.

One thought on “Rounding the Bases: Lincecum, Thomas and Glavine

  1. Chico

    Matt: I was fortunate to have seen The Big Hurt over 100 times at U.S. Cellular field in Chicago. At one time he was the best all around hitter in baseball. I agree with you: Hall of Fame in 2014 wearing a Chicago White Sox hat!


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