Urban: Lincecum back to meeting Giant expectations


Urban: Lincecum back to meeting Giant expectations

June 23, 2011


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Mychael Urban

Long after he'd satisfied the swarm of reporters requesting his postgame thoughts on Thursday, after the home clubhouse at AT&T Park was all but empty save a few stragglers, Giants ace Tim Lincecum pulled an all-black, short-sleeved, micro-fiber workout shirt over his head.

Wearing an expression that conveyed equal parts relief and satisfaction, he turned away from his double-wide locker and graciously acknowledged an unexpected visitor.
"It's about time, right?" he said with a wry smile.Unclear was whether he was mimicking the likely reaction of many Giants fans to his merciless mugging of Minnesota, or whether he was simply providing his own reaction.RECAP: Lincecum strikes out 12, Giants take series, 2-1
More than likely, it was both.This is not the first trip down the waterside for Lincecum, whose ugly first three starts of June sounded alarms that echoed those heard last August.It's not his first sprint up the slippery slope aside the slide, either. He got back to the top, to the head of the line, last September -- and with Thursday's seven stifling innings in which the Twins had trouble touching him, he appeared to have again found his way."I didn't really catch him in spring training, so I knew what he threw but didn't really know what it looks like and when he likes to throw it," said Chris Stewart, who gained such knowledge while handling Lincecum's Saturday start in Oakland and appeared to expertly apply it five days later. "Today we were on the same page pretty much all day, but the main thing is Timmy was just really, really good."That might be underselling it. Lincecum was great, as evidenced by the 12 K's hanging on the brick wall down the right-field line after the Freak finished with a flourish, striking out the side in the seventh before handing a 1-0 lead to the bullpen. The Twins surely felt like they'd been plastered to a brick wall themselves.
The problem for Lincecum, though, is that greatness is expected. For him, greatness is par for his career course. Birdies and eagles? It'll take no-hitters, 20-punchout performances, truly transcendent triumphs for him to get credit for those.Maybe "problem" isn't the right word here, come to think of it. If outside expectations are that high, no matter how unrealistic they might be, something has gone so spectacularly well that it's hard to paint it as problematic."Unfair?" Again, hard to slap some spit on that label. Greatness brings great "glue" -- MLBese for big money -- and commensurate fame, and there's nothing unfair about that.Besides, you easily could flip that script and say it's not fair for the Twins when Lincecum, as he so often does, delivers the expected greatness.He delivered against Minnesota by featuring his curveball quite a bit more than usual -- a tweak to his game plan that doubled as a means to the end of correcting a slight mechanical flaw that contributed to the mini-June swoon.While in the midst of his funk, Lincecum has insisted that his issues were all in his head. Yet as he explained in the near-empty clubhouse late Thursday afternoon, recent conversations with his dad, Chris, convinced him that it was as mechanic as it was mental.VIDEO: Tim Lincecum on his father
In layman's terms, the result of those conversations -- as well as the feedback of pitching coach Dave Righetti -- has Lincecum no longer "flying out" with his left shoulder so early that it forces a premature tilt toward first base, giving him better balance (read: command) and leg drive (read: sustainable velocity and stamina).What makes an elite athlete get away from what so clearly works for him in the first place? If anyone had the answer to that, a lot of coaches and trainers would be out of jobs.Exhaustion might be a possible cause, though.Up and down the slide they go, trying to live up to ridiculously lofty standards; merely good performances seen as less than that, great ones seen as merely good.That's got to be taxing at some point, no? Yes.So maybe we've got it all wrong. Maybe Lincecum's refreshingly unguarded comment in the quiet of the clubhouse had nothing to do with his return to Freakiness."It's about time, right?"Could you blame him if he was just talking about a nap?

What the new labor agreement means for Giants

What the new labor agreement means for Giants

SAN FRANCISCO — Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association sent out a long press release on Friday afternoon highlighting the changes in the new labor agreement. The release included a chart that had references to surtaxes and first-time payors and CBT thresholds, and for Larry Baer, Brian Sabean, Bobby Evans and the rest of the front office, that was probably the most important part. 

Without getting an actual look at the organization’s books, it’s hard to know exactly how the new tax rules will impact what the Giants might or might not do over the next five years. We can take an educated guess, though, and mine is that it probably won’t be a big deal. The Giants are already a tax-paying team and they’ll likely stay that way, but they have never been all that far above the threshold. They’re not the Dodgers, who went $100 million over the line at one point. 

The Competitive Balance Tax Threshold for 2017 is $197 million and by 2019 it jumps to $206 million. It’ll be $210 million in the fifth and final year of this new labor agreement. That seems somewhat in line with the rate at which the Giants’ payroll has increased, and the assumption is that they’ll stay on that trajectory going forward, possibly dipping under the tax one year to avoid second-time or third-time taxes. This shouldn't change the way they operate. 

We’ll spend plenty of time talking about the tax if payroll continues to rise, but for now, let’s focus on some of the more interesting parts of the new agreement. For instance, this line: 

Home-field advantage in the World Series will be awarded to the Club with the higher winning percentage in the Championship Season, rather than based on the outcome of the All-Star Game.

That’s huge, and it’s a change that will be more apparent to fans than a tax threshold. Under the new rule, the Cubs would have hosted Game 7, not the Indians. Here are some other highlights from the labor agreement, and how they might affect the Giants … 

--- Beginning in 2018, the regular season will be expanded to provide four additional off-days for players. 

This will help every team (and the beat writers), but the Giants will benefit more than most. They are not the Cubs, with a lineup full of 23-year-olds. It’s an aging core with a brutal travel schedule (because they're on the West Coast), and guys who play through a lot of minor injuries will surely appreciate the extra time. Because Bruce Bochy doesn't alter the rotation during off days, this adds extra rest for the veteran starters. This might buy Buster Posey an extra start or two a year, too. 

--- Additional restrictions on start times of games on getaway days so that players will arrive in their next city at an earlier time.

Again, a small but important boost for the Giants and other West Coast teams. Bochy has been very public about his issues with the schedule, and the Giants often get home at three or four in the morning and then play a game that night. This guarantees a little more time to rest at home, and it might finally force the Dodgers to play a weekday day game or two. The Giants haven’t appreciated the fact that they host games at 1 p.m. on getaway days and then end up sitting in Los Angeles traffic at midnight a few days later. 

--- The 15-day disabled list will be replaced with a 10-day disabled list.

Time to again become familiar with IT Band Syndrome!  Teams are going to game this, and Bochy certainly will. He has long said that he’d like to put every reliever on the DL during the season to freshen up the arm, but it was just too big a hit when it was 15 days. I could see multiple relievers a year spending 10 days away because of a minor ailment. This also should kill the long-running “Player X goes day-to-day for eight days and then ends up on the DL anyway” routine that drives fans crazy. 

--- Following election of players by fans, the Commissioner’s Office will select seven players from the National League (4 pitchers) and five players from the American League (4 pitchers) to participate in the All-Star Game. Such selections will replace the selections awarded to the managers of the American and National League teams in the prior agreement.

Maybe they’ll now realize that Crawford is an All-Star? 

--- The Home Run Derby format will remain the same, but player prize money will be increased throughout the term.

This is disappointing simply because there’s nothing in the wording here that says “MADISON BUMGARNER WILL BE IN THE HOME RUN DERBY.” (I still believe that he’ll find his way into the Derby eventually.)

--- Agreement on a list of best practices for Clubs in maintaining clubhouses, including standards for meals, amenities, assistance for player families, etc.

I wonder if players argued for this purely because of Wrigley Field. The Cubs chill in a spacious renovated clubhouse that looks like a spaceship. Visiting teams dress in a musty room that’s the size of a studio in The Mission, and they have to walk out to the center field bleachers to find the cage. It’s a small thing, but every advantage matters. 

--- Revenue Sharing: The number of market disqualified Clubs will be reduced from 15 to 13, with Oakland phased-out over four years beginning in 2017.

I don’t know how this will actually play out, but it can’t hurt the Giants, the other team in this market. 

--- Pension benefits for classes of retired players will be increased.

This sounds like it’ll help plenty of former Giants, so that’s cool. 

--- The Major League minimum salary will increase from $507,500 in 2016 to: $535,000 in 2017; $545,000 in 2018; $555,000 in 2019; and be subject to a cost-of-living adjustment in 2020 and 2021.

What a life. That's basically a free car for Ty Blach. 

--- The parties agreed on an international play plan in which Clubs will stage games or tours in Mexico, Asia, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and London over the next five years in order to grow the game.

So … are we going to Punta Cana or what? 

There are no details about how exactly this plan will play out, but if it’s an aggressive one, I’d assume they’ll want some big-name teams and players in these games. The Giants certainly would be one of the bigger draws. 

--- Players will receive additional compensation for participating in Club and League-sanctioned events, in amounts ranging from $15,000 to $100,000 per player depending on the location and schedule.

What a life. 

--- International Amateur Talent Acquisition: This is a long section, but the gist of it is that signing pools will now come in between $4.75 million and $5.75 million. 

The Giants have never gone particularly crazy on the international market, so this should help them simply because it cuts down on teams that do (including two, the Dodgers and Padres, in the division). In theory, they should now have a much better chance at the big-time international prospects who previously shot out of their preferred price range. 

--- Use of tobacco products on the field will be banned in all ballparks where it is prohibited by local law or ordinance. Any player who makes his Major League debut in 2017 or later will be prohibited from using smokeless tobacco on the field in every ballpark.

This is already the case at AT&T Park, but it’s not enforced. Most players have at least started to hide any use publicly, and I’d imagine that’s all MLB really wants. 

--- The Commissioner’s Office will implement an Anti-Hazing and Anti-Bullying Policy as a supplement to the Workplace Code of Conduct. 

The end of rookie dress-up day? The end of the Dora the Explorer backpacks being carried out to the bullpen? If true, the Giants might already be ahead of the curve. They didn’t publicize their dress-up day last September (in part because they were playing terrible baseball) and the backpack is camo. 

--- Various improvements to the allowances that players receive, including moving allowances. 

Congrats to Mark Melancon.

Padres trade former A's All-Star catcher to Nationals

Padres trade former A's All-Star catcher to Nationals

WASHINGTON — The Washington Nationals have reacquired catcher Derek Norris from the San Diego Padres for minor league right-hander Pedro Avila.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo announced the trade Friday.

Norris, a 2007 first-round pick of the Nationals, hit .186 with 14 home runs and 42 RBIs last season for San Diego. The 27-year-old is a career .233 hitter in five major league seasons with the Oakland Athletics and Padres.

Washington sent Norris to Oakland for left-hander Gio Gonzalez in 2011. He returns to the Nationals, who avoided arbitration with catcher Jose Lobaton on Thursday.

All-Star catcher Wilson Ramos is a free agent who will miss the start of the season after knee surgery.

Avila, 19, went 7-7 with a 3.48 ERA in 20 starts for Single-A Hagerstown last season.