Brian Wilson Injury: Could San Francisco Giants Non-Tender Their Closer?

Ian CasselberryMLB Lead WriterApril 19, 2012

Brian Wilson's elbow injury could end up hurting him financially next year.
Brian Wilson's elbow injury could end up hurting him financially next year.Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Was there any glimmer of hope that Brian Wilson would be able to avoid Tommy John surgery after being diagnosed with a "moderate sprain" of the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow?

There shouldn't have been, of course, as a sprain is, in fact, a tear. But other pitchers have opted for rehab over surgery when the tear hasn't been that serious. 

That won't be the case with Wilson. 

As reported by the Mercury News' Alex Pavlovic on Twitter, Wilson will indeed undergo reconstructive surgery on his injured elbow. The world famous Dr. James Andrews could be performing the procedure as you read this. 

Wilson will probably be out for the next 12 months, if not longer. But will his recovery and rehab take longer, since this is the second Tommy John surgery he's had? (The first was in 2003, while Wilson was in college at LSU.) 

That obviously takes him into next season, which is the final year he's eligible for arbitration. Wilson won't have much of a case for a raise since he made only one appearance before injuring his elbow. But where does that leave the Giants?

As Andrew Baggarly of CSN Bay Area explains, Brian Sabean and the team's front office have two options. First, they could offer him a 20 percent pay cut in arbitration, the maximum allowable. That would take Wilson down from the $8.5 million he's getting this year down to $6.4 million.

That's still a great salary for someone who will still be working his way back and could have an innings limit imposed. In fact, it might be too good a salary as far as the Giants are concerned. 

Which brings us to the second choice. The Giants could opt not to tender Wilson a contract, let him become a free agent and try to bring him back at a much lower salary.

Hey, it worked for the Arizona Diamondbacks this year with Joe Saunders. Had the D-Backs gone to arbitration with Saunders, he probably would've gotten a raise from $5.5 million to $8 million based on his 2011 performance.

But Arizona non-tendered Saunders instead. And when he couldn't find the long-term deal or the bump in salary he was looking for, he went back to the D-Backs, accepting a one-year, $6 million contract. 

Can Brian Wilson be expected to be the same pitcher when he returns from Tommy John surgery?
Can Brian Wilson be expected to be the same pitcher when he returns from Tommy John surgery?Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Baggarly believes it won't get to that point between Wilson and the Giants. Wilson has shown he will pitch until his arm blows out for that team. And the Giants are grateful to him for four seasons of being one of the best closers in baseball. 

However, shouldn't the Giants at least consider non-tendering Wilson? As I wrote earlier this week, the bullpen has plenty of depth under club control. And even if Sabean decides to bring back Santiago Casilla and Jeremy Affeldt, he can do so for around the same money that he would pay Wilson. 

As Tom Verducci wrote this week, relievers are getting hurt now more than ever. The shelf life on them might just be shorter than that of running backs in the NFL. Can Wilson ever be the 40-save, 70-inning closer he used to be? And if he can't, how much should the Giants be willing to pay for him?

No, letting Wilson go wouldn't be a great demonstration of loyalty. And it would certainly be an unpopular move with Giants fans. But could the money that would go to Wilson be better utilized elsewhere on the roster? Future contract extensions with Buster Posey and Tim Lincecum could be on the itinerary.