Hey everyone. I’m Joe Saunders and I just started writing for Rays Colored Glasses. I’ve been a lifelong baseball fan and player and my passion for the game includes everything from traditional stats to sabermetrics. I hope I can give you some insight about the Rays and the game of baseball. Getting right into it, I will start today by discussing Brian Wilson as a possible free agent target for the Rays.
After the 2010 season, Brian Wilson was at the pinnacle of his career. In 70 appearances, Wilson dominated to the tune of a 1.81 ERA, nailing down 48 saves and striking out 93 batters in 74.2 innings pitched. Then he topped it all off with an impressive postseason, tossing 11.2 shutout innings to help lead the Giants to a World Series championship. His eccentric personality and long, untamed beard made him a fan favorite and while his antics bothered some, he had established himself as one of the best closers in baseball. However, after just two appearances in 2012, Wilson was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery for the second time in his career and miss the rest of the season. As quickly as he had risen up, his career came crashing down, and at 31 years old, everything was pulled into question. But then Wilson signed with the Dodgers towards the end of the 2013 season and proceeded to pitch 19.2 innings between the regular season and postseason, striking out 22 while walking just 6 and allowing just one earned run (0.46 ERA). Now he enters free agency once again with the momentum of his strong finish to the season pulling him forward. Could Wilson be an option for the Tampa Bay Rays?
The Rays definitely will be intrigued by Wilson’s distinguished track record and ability to close. With all signs pointing to Fernando Rodney leaving through free agency, the Rays will have to fill that void. With that in mind, Wilson seems like a great fit. The Rays can give Wilson the chance to pitch the ninth inning right away, which is not something every team can offer, and he has proven in the past to be one of the best closers in the game. He could be the latest Rays reliever to have an outstanding season pitching in the ninth inning, and given his previous success, the probability of that may even be higher than the others. Wilson’s previous injuries could scare several teams away from potentially signing him, but that also could put Wilson right within the Rays’ price range. And that goes without saying that boasting one of the most bizarre beards in all of sports, Wilson could instantly become a fan favorite.
Signing Wilson, though, does come with its drawbacks. He will be in demand, and he should command a contract greater than what the Rays gave both Fernando Rodney and Kyle Farnsworth in years past. The team would probably have to offer more than they usually would for a relief option, and that is especially concerning because of Wilson’s injury risk. It is also questionable whether Wilson still has the stuff to pitch in the AL East. Wilson threw 69.5% cutters during his time with the Dodgers, which is concerning because he isn’t exactly Mariano Rivera. He has been a power pitcher his entire career, relying primarily on a fastball hovering around the mid-90’s to along with his cutter. He has thrown a changeup and a curveball as well, but only sparingly. Wilson’s extreme decrease in fastball frequency had to be to some extent an effort to hide the pitch–it was down to 93.4 MPH in 2013 according to Fangraphs compared to 95.9 MPH as recently as 2010, and he was right around the same velocity and usage that he displayed in his two appearances in 2012 before undergoing surgery. Can Wilson beat AL East hitters consistently utilzing a cutter three-quarters of the time?
Even if he is no longer the pitcher he was at his peak in 2010, Brian Wilson is definitely a pitcher the Tampa Bay Rays will be interested in this winter. But because the money it will likely take to sign him is above what they would prefer to pay, the Rays are likely to take a wait-and-see approahc. The best scenario for the Rays would be for Wilson remain on the market for a long time and run out of suitors. That would give the Rays a chance at signing Wilson to a one-year deal where he could improve his value and return to the free agent market next year. Most likely, another will outbid the Rays for Wilson’s services and he will not be part of the team for the 2014 season. However, if the market for Wilson turns out to be smaller than initially thought and he is still looking for a team at the end of the offseason, the Rays could have a chance at landing the bearded wonder.