The Giants don’t want to pay Brian Wilson $7-8M. In most contexts that seems fair for a pitcher coming back from a fairly serious injury. However, the problem with Wilson and the Giants is complicated by the contractual system in baseball. The Giants can’t pay Wilson less than 80-percent of what he made in 2012 ($8.5M) and if they try to non-tender him and bring him back at a lower salary, there’s no guarantee that he will agree to come back; at that point, he’s able to negotiate with any club that might be interested in his services.
Per Hank Schulman:
The Giants prefer to let Wilson become a free agent, then re-sign him with a guaranteed salary significantly less than $6.8 million, supplemented by incentives that would yield a more significant payout if he is strong enough to pitch.
Wilson reportedly is not keen on that idea and believes he deserves a higher guarantee because of all he has given the organization, including the health of his arm in pursuit of San Francisco’s first World Series title two years ago.
An incentive-laden deal with a lower base salary seems appropriate. But will Wilson go along with that? His agent is probably telling him otherwise with the current state of the baseball free agent market. This is clearly a market that isn’t shy about paying for bullpen help – see: Broxton, League, and Affeldt – the Giants can’t afford to take on the $7M risk that is Brian Wilson’s right arm, good will and 2010 Championships and beards aside. Ryan Madson’s recent deal indicates that teams aren’t going to be scared off by Tommy John survivors, but the difference in Brian Wilson’s case is that Wilson is one of the few pitchers to undergo TJ two times. Though, Madson’s deal — lower base salary with incentives — could be a model for any deal that Wilson might seek out, with the Giants or other teams.
According to this list, there have been approximately 499 players that have undergone TJ surgery. Of those 499, only 38 have had the procedure twice or more. (The list narrows down a little more if you restrict it to just pitchers – 35 have been pitchers.) Jason Isringhausen famously had it done three times.
Pitchers that have undergone TJ two or more times.
Player TJ Jason Isringhausen 3 Al Reyes 2 Matt Riley 2 Lance Carter 2 Brian Anderson 2 Scott Mathieson 2 Brian Wilson 2 Tyler Yates 2 Chad Fox 2 Mason Tobin 2 Chris Capuano 2 Nate Bland 2 Christian Garcia 2 Shawn Hill 2 Darren Dreifort 2 Joey Devine 2 Dave Eiland 2 Kyle Drabek 2 Denny Stark 2 Leandro Marin 2 Derek Thompson 2 Matt Beech 2 Doug Brocail 2 Mike Lincoln 2 Erick Threets 2 Randy Wolf 2 Hong-Chih Kuo 2 Scott Williamson 2 Jason Frasor 2 Shawn Kelley 2 Steve Ontiveros 2 Tim Spooneybarger 2 Todd Coffey 2 Joakim Soria 2 Victor Zambrano 2
Long list is long, and you can draw your conclusions however you want, but there’s nothing like a Tim Spooneybarger reference to get your blood pumping. And hey, look, an Erik Threets sighting! Quick aside: Threets was one of my earliest prospect crushes.
A left-hander with legendary velocity — I still remember some of his early Baseball America scouting reports — was just too much for my little prospectin’ heart to handle. And in my eyes, the control problems were no big deal, because he’ll learn to throw strikes eventually, right? Right?
In Wilson’s case, his 2011 was full of warning signs that he was probably hurting: these graphs do a pretty good job of telling that story. Lower strikeouts. Rising walk-rate. Decline in velocity. Those are the classic red flags of arm injuries. In hindsight, the Giants clearly knew something was up. The team often hid Wilson this past Spring Training, making him throw on back fields and keeping his appearances away from reporters.
The $7M question is which Brian Wilson will the Giants get in 2013? The version that was struggling to crack 90 mph in 2012 or some amalgamation of his past self. Wilson’s rise to success isn’t lost on me. He was the first legitimate closer the Giants had since Robb Nen and he closed the books on names like Herges, Walker, and Benitez. His dominant run from 2009-2010 is one of the best among franchise history. He’s been a really, really successful pitcher. But, as we know, pitchers are fragile things, held together by tape and string and bits of Velcro.
The Giants are right to not pursue Wilson at $7M in 2012. And, likewise, his agent is right to test the market if the Giants non-tender Wilson. To me, this seems like one of those rare occurrences where both sides have just reason to do what they need to do. Wilson has been a huge icon to the team and fans since he arrived, and the Giants will lose money on beard sales, but Wilson is clearly a huge risk. I love the guy; I’ve loved to watch him pitch, but he’s just too risky. If Wilson can’t agree on a lower base salary with performance incentives, it’s probably time for the Giants to move on. I’ll easily be able to say, “Brian Wilson, Good Giant.”