Javier Lopez will miss free agency by five days

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The rules that dictate free agency in Major League Baseball can often be cruel, as Giants reliever Javier Lopez is just about to find out.

The 33-year-old lefty has posted a stellar 2.38 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 53 innings this season between the Pirates and Giants while holding left-handed batters to a .157/.260/.253 batting line.  Reliable lefty specialists are often hard to come by and he probably would have found himself a sizable contract this offseason.  But he won’t qualify for free agency.

According to Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle, Lopez will end the 2010 season with five years and 167 days of major-league service time.  A full season is 172 days.  In other words, he’ll wind up just five days short of the service time needed to qualify for free agency.

Lopez is likely to be tendered a contract by the Giants and remain in San Francisco for 2011. 

That’s not necessarily a bad thing — the Giants are good and he’s still going to be paid well — but relievers are an off-and-on species, and he’ll need to pitch well again next season in order to cash in for 2012.