The reports are in, and Brian Wilson looks good to go.
The former Giants closer threw a mound session Monday at the University of San Francisco. Coincidentally, a couple Giants coaches were in attendance, but it was what they reported back about the state of Wilson’s rehab that was more interesting than who his potential suitors may be.
Wilson was said to look “game ready” in that session, according to CNSBayArea.com. Wilson wasn’t on a radar gun, but Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti, who stood in the batter’s box while Wilson threw, estimated that the still-bearded pitcher topped out at 94 miles per hour. Wilson was also said to have great life on his cut fastball, his primary out pitch.
Wilson will next pitch Thursday in Los Angeles, and this time it will be with other teams in attendance, according to Alex Pavlovic of the San Jose Mercury News. If Wilson maintains that velocity and movement, he’ll have plenty of suitors and lots of competition for his services, regardless of his history with the Giants.
Likewise, if the Massachusetts native proves that he’s healthy, 15 months removed from Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox would be wise to make a strong effort to bring Wilson’s infamous beard to Boston.
Last August, when the Red Sox traded away Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the primary buzz term the team used to sell the deal to its fan base was “financial flexibility.” This wasn’t just lip service, as general manager Ben Cherington retained that financial flexibility with the moves he made over the offseason, choosing to add a series of complementary pieces with good value rather than chasing down the Josh Hamiltons of the free agent class.
But that all being said, the Red Sox are still a team likely well below its payroll threshold and are set up to continue to hold onto that financial flexibility going forward, regardless of anything they might do at this trade deadline. So, in that context, potentially overpaying or entering a bidding war for Wilson’s services is probably something Boston could afford to do.
It’s no secret that the Red Sox are in desperate need of bullpen help, and, as good as Koji Uehara has been, it would also be nice to have an established closer and be able to move Uehara back to his customary role as a setup guy. Wilson not only has a great deal of experience in the closer’s role, but he’s performed on the biggest stage, too, winning the World Series with San Francisco in 2010.
Detractors to a potential Wilson signing will likely immediately point out that the Red Sox don’t have a great deal of success with imported relievers and elbow issues. However, if Wilson really is healthy and throwing in the mid 90s, there simply isn’t a comparable reliever available via trade with Wilson’s track record.
More to the point, a free agent signing should undoubtedly have a lot more appeal to the Red Sox than a trade. Beyond the fact that trade targets’ values’ are inflated in July, anyway, Boston’s top prospects are guys they want to hold on to, not ancillary pieces blocked at the major league level. In short, potentially signing Wilson just feels like the kind of scenario for which you create financial flexibility in the first place.
Wilson likely won’t receive more than a one- or two-year deal this season, though his annual value probably hasn’t depreciated as much as you might think for a guy who hasn’t pitched since April of last year (think something like a prorated $7 million). But that should be well within the Red Sox’ budget, and if Wilson is healthy, he will likely return at least equal value on such a deal.
Lastly, there’s the matter of character and attitude. It’s been oft mentioned that the 2013 Red Sox are a much more likeable bunch, and that Cherington brought in leadership over the offseason. Such intangibles are clearly made too much of, but, either way, Wilson would clearly fit in well in the Fenway clubhouse. His demeanor is just about perfect for a (friendly) staring match with Jonny Gomes, and he already has the beard to match.
It’s true that signing any pitcher coming off Tommy John surgery is a dangerous proposition. (Just ask the Angels how former Phillies closer Ryan Madson is working out for them.) But given the specific bullpen needs of the Red Sox, the team’s financial flexibility and likely desire not to give up on prospects, Brian Wilson is a calculated risk that makes a ton of sense for Boston to take.
Photo via Twitter/@AlexPavlovic