Holding onto Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez, as the Giants did Wednesday, almost certainly gives the club a better shot at retaining one, two or all of them as free agents.

Understandable. They're all interesting, valuable players, they've all contributed in various ways to championships, and Giants fans love all three of them, which helps when you need to fill up AT&T Park as often as possible.

However, just one caution: It's probably not the wisest bet to predict all three will be back next season, and it may not be the wisest thing for the Giants to bring back more than one of them, either.

Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez were still in San Francisco uniforms when the Major League Baseball trade deadline passed, but can Giants G.M.
Tim Lincecum, Hunter Pence and Javier Lopez were still in San Francisco uniforms when the Major League Baseball trade deadline passed, but can Giants G.M. Brian Sabean afford to sign them as free agents? (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

The Giants aren't exactly brimming with talent these days, so they should have little desire to clog their future payroll and limit their options by committing big money to sentimental favorites who no longer are in their primes.

Yes, I'm talking about Lincecum -- unless he's amenable to a short-term deal and a possible move to the bullpen.

If Lincecum is OK with that, then by all means, that could make a lot of sense for the Giants, even if it's at a pretty big number. The key is to avoid long-term commitments. The Giants are rich and can afford short-term deals, especially for a player as special as Lincecum has been for them.

I presume the Giants will make him a qualifying offer of about $14 million. That would assure them of getting a compensatory draft pick if he leaves. And if Lincecum accepts the qualifying offer, then good.

I'm also talking about Lopez for sure. He's 36, and how much money can the Giants tie up in another veteran left-handed reliever after committing to pay Jeremy Affeldt $6 million in both 2014 and 2015? Investing more than $10 million in aging lefty relievers for multiple seasons is just lousy baseball economics.

Pence is a different matter. Of the trio of big Giants free agents -- I'm excusing Barry Zito -- Pence is the Giants' best re-sign option.

He's still only 30, his production has been relatively consistent, even at AT&T, he really seems to like it here, and the Giants might not be able to come close to duplicating what he gives them in right field.

But if Pence's price gets into the five-year, $70 million range, then the Giants might be smart to focus on cheaper avenues, even if they'd be taking a short-term hit by losing Pence's production in 2014.

My overall theme: Even if you have a lot of money to spend -- which the Giants definitely do -- you don't want to just keep making large long-term commitments to players who may or may not be worthy of it, either immediately or deep into the future.

The Giants already have three players who will make $10 million or more next season: Matt Cain, Buster Posey, and Angel Pagan. Pence would make four. Lincecum, five.

Do the Giants want to have five players making more than $10 million in 2014 ... and with four of them committed to years and years beyond that?

I don't think so, and you don't need to look far to know why.

The A's are near the bottom of the payroll totem pole, around $61 million for this season, along with the Tampa Bay Rays. And those teams have two of the three best records in the American League.

The A's have no players making $10 million this season. They have a small cluster in the range of $7 million to $9 million (Chris Young, Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes, with only Cespedes scheduled to make that much past 2014, and then it's only through 2015).

How do the A's win on the field and in the boardroom? They identify inexpensive players who can provide just as much value as other teams' VERY expensive players. You've got to be good at identifying them, but it's better to miss on a $492,000 guy than to watch a $100 million guy break down in front of your eyes.

So when the Giants and their fans contemplate how far they should go to keep Lincecum, Pence and Lopez, they should look across the bay and ponder whether they can find a less-expensive model. If they think they can -- and all front offices should believe they can -- then the price you're willing to pay for three sentimental favorites comes down.

Read Tim Kawakami's Talking Points blog at blogs.mercurynews.com/kawakami. Contact him at tkawakami@mercurynews.com or 408-920-5442.

POOLE: Beane and Sabean had good reason to stay mostly quiet at deadline. www.mercurynews.com/sports
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