Brian Wilson has officially been “out for the season” since Sunday, but today it was reported that he will undergo Tommy John surgery on Thursday.
Wilson hasn’t been the same pitcher since the 2010 postseason, during which time he’s posted pedestrian numbers (109 ERA+ and 1.70 K/BB in 57 innings — most of that work coming in 2011). While the loss of Wilson is certainly a blow to the team, they have the bullpen depth to handle it — and Wilson, assuming he would have posted something similar to his 2011 numbers, is pretty replaceable. As of now, the team is employing the closer-by-committee approach, but I’d expect Santiago Casilla carries the bulk of the load when it comes to closing. Ideally, this would mean an expanded role for Sergio Romo as well, which would go a long way toward making up for the loss of Wilson.
Anyway, Brian Wilson had a 3.33 FIP last season. Santiago Casilla, his likely replacement, had a 3.10 FIP last season. In the month or so during which Wilson didn’t pitch last year (mid-August to mid-September), the Giants blew one save. And that blown save was 1) Guillermo Mota‘s doing, and 2) only because of a weird quirk in the save rule. Satchel Price wrote up a piece over at Beyond the Box Score last year on how the Giants would do just fine without Wilson (and they did do just fine), and it applies for 2012 as well. I’m not too concerned.
None of this, of course, is meant to disparage Wilson. His 2010 season was fantastic, and even more impressive was the postseason that followed (11.2 innings, zero earned runs). He is, and will forever be a huge part of the reason the Giants were able to take home the Commissioner’s Trophy in 2010. But the post-2010 version of Wilson has been a much less dominant (yet still effective) pitcher, and given the strength of their bullpen, the Giants are still in pretty good shape without him.
The most interesting issue that arises from this is what the future now holds for Wilson and the Giants. He’s arbitration-eligible for one last time next season, and if the Giants choose to tender him a contract, at minimum they’ll be offering around $6.5M. Is he worth that kind of money? Heath Hembree should be ready to seize the closer role by that point, and furthermore, Wilson would be coming off his second Tommy John surgery. It seems like an easy no. And while trading him at the end of this season might have made sense before he blew out his elbow, it seems silly to do that now that his trade value is at a dead-low (though there’s no harm in gauging interest).
I think I’m with Lefty Malo here in that the best option is probably to non-tender Wilson and subsequently negotiate a low-base highly-incentivized contract. The upside’s still there for Wilson, but it wouldn’t be worth the risk of tendering him a contract.