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01/24/11 7:33 PM EST

Inbox: Giants face tough payroll decisions

Thinking beyond this season, what are the chances of re-signing Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Brian Wilson and continuing to field a good team? Would it make sense to trade Cain, Sanchez and Wilson next season to get good high-quality prospects, as well as clearing payroll to sign Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey and Pablo Sandoval? Then, depending on their success, signing Zack Wheeler, Dan Runzler, Sergio Romo, Brandon Belt, Thomas Neal, Francisco Peguero and Nate Schierholtz? I just think that if the Giants trade and receive prospects, they could be a treat for years to come, but if they try and hold on to these guys, there won't be enough money to retain younger talent.
-- Kevin M., Riverside, Calif.

Don't you love contemporary baseball economics? That's said in sarcasm, of course. Whether driven by arbitration, free agency or the New York Yankees, salary escalation makes it virtually impossible for teams to retain all of their top players for more than a few years when they're performing at their peak. That explains the Big Red Machine's dismantling, the Florida Marlins' rush to strip both of their World Series-winning teams of their best talent and the Pittsburgh Pirates' instant decline after the 1992 season (see ya, Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonilla and Doug Drabek), to cite just a few examples.

Sorry for the historical meandering. But this background suggests that the Giants will face challenging decisions in the near future. Somebody -- Lincecum, Cain, Sanchez or Wilson -- may indeed have to be traded for young, cheap talent if the team is to remain within its player payroll budget. That, or keep increasing the payroll, mirroring this year's hike from just short of $100 million to near $120 million. It's highly doubtful that the Giants can afford to do that annually.

Trading Cain, Sanchez and Wilson by next season to obtain fresh prospects might be premature. But the 2011-12 offseason may continue to strain the Giants' payroll limits, which could prompt management to begin pondering who to keep or discard. Lincecum and Sanchez will be arbitration-eligible and thus will receive keys to the safe at AT&T Park. Cain's salary will rise from $7.333 million to $15.333 million; Wilson gets a bump from $6.5 million to $8.5 million. After the 2012 season, Lincecum and Wilson will be in their final year of arbitration eligibility, while Cain and Sanchez will be potential free agents. The price tag of keeping all four for one season probably will exceed $60 million and could surpass $80 million. That doesn't include the additional cost of a multiyear contract. Care to guess how the Giants will handle this juggling act?

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Are the Giants making a mistake in agreeing to go under the Showtime microscope for the 2011 season? Maybe more scrutiny than the team needs? The New York Jets certainly took a lot of flak for undergoing a similar examination by HBO this past season.
-- Ray G., Gettysburg, Pa.

Considering that the Jets reached the AFC championship game, I don't think the "Hard Knocks" comparison alone should prompt concern among the Giants. But I am skeptical. To paraphrase general manager Brian Sabean, the Giants consistently competed better than their opponents in 2010, though the other team might have fielded a more talented lineup or (not too often) used a more adept starting pitcher. This meant that manager Bruce Bochy had the Giants ready to play every game. If they can approach the first pitch with that same mindset after having been followed by a camera crew, great. Moreover, I believe that these Giants take their jobs seriously enough not to let the Showtime folks interfere with their routine. Nonetheless, the show inevitably will be a distraction to some degree -- how can it not? -- hence my doubts about the wisdom of sharing the clubhouse with these guys.

Why did the Giants offer Javier Lopez $2 million and Andres Torres only $1.8 million? Don't get me wrong, Lopez was huge for us, but it seems weird that they would offer more to a guy who might pitch two-thirds of an inning every couple of days than a guy who is playing every day.
-- Chet B., Redlands, Calif.

Major League service time is an integral factor in salary arbitration. Lopez has been in the bigs longer than Torres. This was Lopez's final year of arbitration eligibility. For Torres, it was his first. That's largely why Lopez received a larger offer from the club -- and, ultimately, a bigger salary ($2.375 million, compared to Torres' $2.2 million).

If Pablo Sandoval doesn't lose enough weight, what other options will the Giants have at third base?
-- Matthew O., Tiburon, Calif.

Mark DeRosa, apparently recovered from left wrist surgery, will be a leading candidate to play third base if Sandoval can't. Mike Fontenot also can play there, though he's probably not a longterm solution. Ryan Rohlinger isn't projected to make the Opening Day roster, though he'll likely make his presence felt in Spring Training. Miguel Tejada also can handle third, but using him at that spot would create a vacancy at shortstop that the Giants would prefer to avoid.

Whatever happened to Zack Wheeler? Wasn't he a high Draft pick by the Giants?
-- Angelo S., Pinole, Calif.

Yes, No. 1 (sixth overall) in the 2009 First-Year Player Draft. The Giants drafted Wheeler out of high school, so his route to the Majors won't be as direct as Tim Lincecum's or Buster Posey's. Wheeler showed promise last year at low-Class A Augusta, finishing 3-3 with a 3.99 ERA and an opponents' batting average of .218. He pitched only 58 2/3 innings in 21 appearances, including 13 starts, while striking out 70 and walking 38. Wheeler also pitched a scoreless inning in last year's XM All-Star Futures Game.

Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.