Bye-Bye Black Beard: Brian Wilson Might Be Done with Giants and That's Just Fine
Brian Wilson's days with the San Francisco Giants appear to be over, as the rehabbing closer is officially a free agent. Anything is possible, but it also appears that Wilson was upset by the club's stance during negotiations, which means it's unlikely you'll be seeing this in The City during the 2013 season.
Call it bittersweet news for the organization and its fans—bitter for those who still see baseball as a game, sweet for those who see it as a business.
The Beard was one of the icons from the first team to bring a World Series title to San Francisco, not to mention a valuable asset on the diamond. It's always sad to see those players take the long walk.
On the other hand, Wilson had become a redundant piece that represented an almost-reckless level of risk against little tangible benefit.
Let's deal with the nostalgia first.
Even before B-Weezy was B-Weezy and way before he was the Beard, Wilson was an effective closer. His peripheral numbers were a little unsteady at first, but even then, his save percentage never dropped below 84 despite a minimum of 41 save opportunities. Fans might have burned through their proverbial antacids at a record pace during those bite-your-nails-'til-they-bleed days, but the thing ended in a handshake for the good guys more often than not.
Really, that's all you need from your closer. Style points are terrific and make for less stress, but a save is a save is a save.
Wilson hit another gear in 2010, and the phenomenon spread from the Bay Area to the entire nation. The eccentric flamethrower led the majors with 48 saves while only blowing five. His year earned him a Top 10 finish in the National League Cy Young voting and a Top 15 finish in the NL Most Valuable Player voting, both well-deserved.
The right-hander also started growing the strangest marketing ploy in recent memory.
As the final flourish of his breakout campaign, Wilson was basically unhittable in the postseason—11.2 IP, a win, more saves (six) than hits (five) or walks (four), 16 strikeouts and no earned runs allowed—as the Gents were crowned champions.
That sort of production on the game's most pressurized stage is not easy to replace.
It is, however, not impossible to replace.
Wilson went down in a blaze of glory saving Madison Bumgarner's gem in the sixth game of the 2012 regular season. Subsequently, Sergio Romo, Santiago Casilla, Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez and friends did a nice job approximating his steadying hand in the final innings. There were some rocky moments to be sure, but it's tough to argue you're an indispensable piece when you miss an entire year and your team goes on to enjoy the sport's highest level of success.
And that's really where the trouble starts.
When the 2012 San Francisco Giants emerged victoriously from the Fall Classic, Wilson's days were numbered.
Had the bullpen faltered down the stretch and prevented the club from qualifying for the postseason or had it been the chink in the armor that crippled the playoff push, the Beard's potential benefit might've justified a substantial risk.
In either scenario, los Gigantes would've had an issue where a contender can't have an issue. That might have justified rolling the seven-figure dice, tendering Wilson a contract and guaranteeing him at least $6.8 million in '13.
Alas, that second title erased any such justification.
The bullpen remained a team strength even in Wilson's absence. In fact, it was one of the primary strengths as the starting pitchers mostly struggled through the NL Division and Championship Series.
Remember, this is a hurler who will be 31 before the first pitch that counts is thrown next year, and he's busy rebounding from a second Tommy John surgery on his pitching elbow.
The former LSU Tiger is a notorious workout freak, so if you were going to bet on an athlete to make a seamless comeback from such a dire situation, Wilson would be a damn good choice. Regardless, $6.8 million is an insane amount of money to risk on a damaged player who doesn't serve a glaring need.
And Wilson became unnecessary once Romo froze Miguel Cabrera in Game 4 to nail the Detroit Tigers' coffin shut.
Sad, but true.
Which brings us to the man himself.
Wilson could've taken a step back, seen the situation for what it was, focused on the good times with the fans and swallowed his pride. He could've taken the $22.3 million the Giants have already paid him, as well as their willingness to structure a new, incentive-laden contract into his "respect" calculus rather than fixating on the organization's refusal to give him a multimillion-dollar bonus for time served.
That's the Beard's right, and you can't totally blame him for letting emotion get the better of him.
The man bled for the Giants—figuratively and probably literally—and it's gotta sting to be treated like chattel. It'd be nice if he took the larger view of things, but the big picture's easier to see when you're not in the middle of it.
I'm sure general manager Brian Sabean and ownership would like to have him back, but it will have to be on their terms. Given what we know about Brian Wilson, that probably means he's as good as gone—which is too bad.
He'll be missed both by the town and the team, as his antics were both entertaining and an important element in the club's chemistry.
But the Giants still have plenty of personality, they still have plenty of chemistry, and now they have additional money in the coffers to address more pressing matters, like re-signing Angel Pagan and Marco Scutaro.
The organization did what it had to do, and Brian Wilson responded as many of us would. No harm, no foul.
Of course, if he signs with with the Bums, I take it all back.
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