The Giants can't replace Wilson's personality, but they can replace his production.
Wilson underwent a second Tommy John surgery on his right elbow after making only two appearances last season. He earned $8.5 million last year, and the Collective Bargaining Agreement stipulates that arbitration-eligible players cannot be offered a salary that is less than 80 percent of what they made in the previous season.
That means if the Giants tender Wilson a contract, they would have to pay him at least $6.8 million next season.
If Wilson were coming off of his first surgery, that salary would make sense given the high success rate for pitchers coming off of their first Tommy John procedure. Unfortunately, the success rate for a second surgery drops from about 90 percent to 60 percent, and the recovery time is also longer.
Ryan Madson, who is coming off of his first Tommy John surgery, recently signed a one-year contract with the Angels worth $3.5 million in guaranteed money along with the chance to earn another $3.5 million in roster bonuses and incentives.
A similar deal for Wilson would make sense for the Giants; however, Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Wilson is balking at a contract with a lower base salary.
"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."
If Wilson is unwilling to accept a contract similar to the one received by Madson, the Giants should move on. While Wilson was an outstanding closer for them from 2008-2011 when he saved 163 games and put up a combined 3.00 ERA, the organization has shown that they can win without him.
The Giants bullpen didn't miss much of a beat without Wilson last season, putting up a 3.56 ERA during the regular season and a 2.35 ERA during the postseason en route to a second championship in the last three years. The bullpen also converted 80 percent of save opportunities last season, which led the National League.
Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, George Kontos, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and Jose Mijares are all under contract for next season, leaving just one opening in the bullpen. Even if the Giants tender a contract to Wilson, he likely won't be ready until midseason—so the team would still have a hole to fill in the bullpen.
Romo took over as the Giants closer down the stretch last year, and he actually has better career numbers than Wilson.
Rather than invest millions of dollars in the injured Wilson, the Giants could allocate those resources to a healthier free agent reliever such as Jason Grilli, Brandon Lyon, Koji Uehara, Matt Lindstrom or Kyle Farnsworth.
Wilson delivered tremendous production to the Giants and he was well-compensated for his abilities. Now that he's coming off of a second major elbow operation, he's a much riskier proposition for the organization. If he's not willing to accept less guaranteed money, the Giants should re-allocate those resources by signing a reliever that is more likely to remain healthy.
The bullpen is already a strength of the team even without a healthy Wilson—replacing him with another good reliever will only make the team better.
It would be ideal to keep such a popular player in a Giants uniform indefinitely, but the business of baseball often gets in the way of what the fans desire. Wilson is reportedly a hard-working player and a good teammate, as well as a fan-favorite because of his outsized personality and ridiculous beard.
Yet if Wilson isn't willing to compromise, the Giants should go in a different direction—even if it means fewer fake beards in the stands at AT&T Park next season.