Of all the things that weren’t supposed to happen during the San Francisco Giants’ struggle-comeback-struggle-comeback-blow-by-everyone postseason, the ascendance of a previously shaky bullpen shouldn’t go overlooked. This wasn’t just a story of a strong group of relievers doing as well as anyone planned. This was a unit that was plagued with depth issues throughout the season, with players’ roles constantly shifting and changing from night to night.
How did they become MLB’s best set of relievers when it mattered most, in a National League stacked with outstanding bullpens? Guys had to pitch well, of course. But the Giants turned a nagging weakness to a strength with the help of nimble and observant coaching, a closer who has grown up quite a bit since 2010, and the help of a certain two-time Cy Young winner.
They can’t count on Tim Lincecum to solidify the bullpen in 2013, and they probably can’t count on Brian Wilson either, at least when the season begins. For as much as Wilson makes crows about returning as the closer as early as Opening Day, there is a lot of history that suggests a two-time Tommy John patient should take more time to return to action than the customary 12 months prescribed to a first-time TJ pitcher, not less.
Also, Wilson is not under contract and, unless the Giants and everyone covering the team have gone completely insane, San Francisco will not tender him a contract by tonight’s 9 pm PST deadline.
So Wilson will shop his odd mix of personality, resume and risk to the highest bidder, and Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports recently reported that Wilson’s second choice if the Giants aren’t interested would be his (current) hometown Los Angeles Dodgers.
Every single player with a bank account and representation will be interested in taking the Dodgers’ money. They’re making over $200 million per season from local TV rights alone into perpetuity it would seem, and as such they make a great negotiating flag to stick in the sand. But are the Dodgers interested in Wilson?
Since Peter Guber and Co. could build a military to rival two/thirds of the world’s nations at this point, they could decide that overpaying Wilson to stick it to the Giants could be worth it, even if he never pitches in the Majors again. It would create anticipation for next season’s slate of Giants/Dodgers games to a new level, as we could see this:
Going up against this:
Except Wilson would be wearing a Dodgers uniform. And he’d probably have a French manicure instead of colored nail polish. But you get the idea. And that option looks even likelier if Henry Schulman’s report is true.
Looks like the guy sees how much money he brought in during his years under Giants control, and wants to be paid retroactively. If he truly is hurt (emotionally) and feels he’s at odds with the organization and Brian Sabean, it’s probably because he blew out his arm on the job (even finishing his last game with a destroyed elbow ligament), stayed in shape and was a highly visible and enthusiastic presence during the later part of the season and the entire postseason.
But this is about money, and if the Giants offer him the most he’ll probably take it. While the “move on” part of Schulman’s tweet stood out, there’s also a “could” in there. Wilson won’t sign for the Major League minimum in Boston just to prove a point and try out his material on fans who haven’t heard all his favorite catch phrases and one-liners … I think.
While it seems kind of obvious to want to avoid paying Wilson much money at all, what with the inside of his elbow probably looking like SpaghettiO’s just a few months ago, there are a few reasons why the Giants would have more reason to sign him to a deal more than any other team. Yes, even more than the Dodgers, who spent the last offseason after a Giants World Series victory trying like hell to steal as many players away from San Francisco as possible. I’d say it worked out rather well for them.
Those reasons start with their bullpen depth. Compared to a lot of other teams it looks great. They won the World Series and pitched 53.2 innings over the postseason with a combined ERA of 2.35 (take out Guillermo Mota and that drops to 1.73). But without Lincecum, and with a closer whom the Giants aren’t confident can handle a full season in the role (Romo’s best pitch is rough on a pitcher’s elbow, and he also has a “trick knee”), would the Giants be content to go into next year with a bullpen looking like…
Romo, Affeldt, Lopez, Casilla (unless he’s traded for OF depth, something Henry Schulman mentioned today), Kontos, Mijares and a mystery guest?
That mystery guest spot probably shouldn’t be making the $3-$5 million Wilson probably thinks he wouldn’t even accept right now, but what the hell. Giants fans consider Wilson a cult hero! The marketing potential would still be massive! Right? Right?
Not if he isn’t playing. Maybe the Giants could use him in their Social Media department, but nobody wants the jersey of the guy who’s always wearing a hooded sweatshirt or a jacket. He’s throwing off flat ground these days, and looks like he’s accelerating the recovery process as if you can beat science with machismo and an insane amount of belief.
This brings us to Dave Righetti, who may be the most important person here. In the World Series Film, Righetti was the one who said the team knew Wilson’s arm was screwed up this past Spring and into the season, almost as if they expected him to blow out his elbow at some point. Now if we’re going to assume Righetti is telling the truth, the Giants’ pitching coach (who, along with Mark Gardner, has made sure that the relievers are pitching well at the right times so Bruce Bochy can look like a Super Genius Bullpen Master) probably thinks Wilson is damaged goods. And while giving requisite mention to Wilson’s toughness, Bochy also called Wilson “difficult to manage” after he pitched through the pain at Coors in April.
So what will it be? Do the Giants overpay for the hero of 2010 who was a good soldier in 2012 in hopes of possibly adding reinforcements to their bullpen later in the season? Or, is the team under strict orders to only spend for durable players these days? Perhaps the Giants have no interest whatsoever in Wilson returning. Maybe feel like second half Brian Wilson would be worth it, seeing as it’s pretty difficult to land a closer at the deadline.
All we know for sure is if he signs with the Dodgers, he’ll get booed. Loudly. Wilson said “let’s get weird” at least one or a hundred times back in 2010, but it couldn’t get any weirder than that.