Do the Rays Grow ‘The Beard’?
By Dereck Violante
The last two offseasons, it’s been the exact same story for the Rays. They have entered the offseason with a proven closer who was great for them the previous season, J.P. Howell in 2010 and Kyle Farnsworth in 2011, but they decided to sign a pitcher with late-inning experience, Farnsworth in the 2010 offseason and Fernando Rodney after the 2011 season, and that pitcher wound up leading their team in saves the next year. In the seven years the Rays have been managed by Joe Maddon, the Rays have been led in saves by a different pitcher each season. Rodney was unbelievable in 2012, but if that trend persists, the Rays are going to have to find themselves another closer for this year. With all the hoopla of free agent signings so far this off season, who is the next possible target for Andrew Friedman and the Rays to complete the bullpen? There have been some names that came to mind, all of which could be low risk yet high reward. Jason Frasor (signed by Texas Rangers, 1 year/$1.5MM), Ryan Madson (signed by LA Angels, 1 year/$3.25MM + incentives), Matt Capps (still FA, released by Twins Oct. 29th, $4.5MM 2012 salary), and Kevin Gregg (still FA, released by Orioles Sept. 14th in a heated postseason chase, $5.8MM 2012 salary), all names that come to mind with closer or late- innings experience. But could that next pitcher be Brian Wilson?
Brian Wilson, aka The Beard, is coming off his second Tommy John surgery of his career after blowing out his elbow in only his second game of the 2012 season. Also with the emergence of Sergio Romo closing games out for the Giants last season Wilson became expendable to the point that he was not tendered a contract for the 2013 season. The latest reports out of San Francisco, via MLB Trade Rumors, have speculated that the Giants still have interest in bringing back ‘The Beard’ on a low base salary, incentive laden deal. Also noted is that Wilson is close to throwing off the mound at this point in his rehab.
If proven healthy and at a low cost Wilson could be a steal of a signing for the cash strapped Rays. Wilson saved and average of just under 41 games per season from 2008-2011 alone, while also posting career marks of 9.6 K/9, 3.21 ERA, and 129 ERA+. Not only is Wilson a 3 time All Star but also has post season experience leading the Giants to a World Series title in 2010 while leading the league in saves that year with 48.
Ryan Madson has set the market this past off season for former closers coming off Tommy John surgery by signing a 1 year $3.5MM contract loaded with incentives. A not so far fetched contract for Wilson could be par for the course and a home run for Andrew Friedman and the Rays. Not only would Wilson bring a wealth of talent and knowledge to the Rays but could be a good role model to a very young and inexperienced pitching staff, but also help put people in the seats as he is a fan & media favorite. It would be a longshot for the Rays to land Wilson but with the AL East basically wide open for contention and the Rays being essentially a perennial playoff team it might not be so far fetched, stranger things have happened. Imagine Joe Maddon doing a press conference with a fake beard on with Brian Wilson sitting next to him.