Two years ago, Brian Wilson established himself as one of the best closers in baseball by saving 48 games in the regular season and then helping the San Francisco Giants win the World Series.
Now he's out of a job after being non-tendered, and he's looking for a team to take a chance on him less than a year removed from the second Tommy John operation of his career.
Henry Schulman of the San Francisco Chronicle hinted last week that Wilson won't be coming back to the Giants until he's exhausted all other possibilities. The good news for him, according to ESPN's Buster Olney, is that he's expected to get an opportunity to be a closer again in 2013.
But where might said opportunity come from? Which teams are not only willing to sign a potential closer, but willing to roll the dice on Wilson?
There are eight that spring to mind.
What you're thinking right now is that this is a big-time long shot.
Indeed it is. The Yankees have re-upped with future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, and it's going to take something significant for him not to be the club's closer once again.
After what happened to him in 2012, though, Rivera is no sure thing. He's coming off a torn ACL, and nobody has any real clue if he's going to be able to stay healthy. If he is able to stay healthy, nobody has any clue whether he'll pitch like his usual self.
The Yankees ended up doing just fine without Rivera in 2012 thanks to Rafael Soriano, but he's gone now and the club has yet to bring in a Plan B to take his place. David Robertson is a candidate to close if something happens with Mo, but he didn't exactly seize the chance he was given after Mo was hurt.
Thus enters Wilson into the equation. He could serve as the Yankees' insurance policy in the event that Mo gets hurt or fails to recapture his old form. The Yankees would win either way, as Wilson's presence would give them some depth for the late innings that they lack with their current roster.
Being a Plan B closer isn't the ideal scenario for Wilson, but he could be enticed to go to the Yankees anyway because of the money. Based on their spending habits this winter—i.e. $12 million for Kevin Youkilis—the Yankees could be willing to overpay Wilson for one year.
There's one other team that could be willing to overpay Wilson to be a Plan B closer for one year...
Closing games was a huge problem for the Red Sox in 2012. They blew 22 saves, tied with the Los Angeles Angels for the most in baseball.
It didn't help that the guy they planned on using as their closer wasn't able to pitch until late in the year, as Andrew Bailey missed a large portion of the season recovering from thumb surgery. When he did return, he posted a 7.04 ERA in 19 appearances.
The Red Sox don't seem to be in a hurry to replace Bailey as their closer, and that's understandable seeing as how it's not fair to judge him based on his 2012 performance. But while they have added Koji Uehara and Daniel Bard is due for a rebound, the Red Sox don't have an obvious replacement handy in case Bailey flops in 2013.
Wilson could be their guy. He grew up in Red Sox country, and Jim Bowden of ESPN and SiriusXM has reported that Wilson is interested in teaming up with Boston. Since the Red Sox are always looking to upgrade their bullpen (h/t Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com), the interest may be mutual.
It's unlikely that the Red Sox would do a multi-year deal for Wilson, but they could be even more willing to overpay him than the Yankees because of how much payroll space they still have. With a little under $112 million in salaries committed for 2013, they're well short of their $175 million payroll in 2012.
If Wilson is looking for more of a slam-dunk opportunity to close, however, he's better off looking elsewhere.
The Heath Bell experiment was a disaster for the Marlins. He recorded only 19 saves in 27 chances with a 5.09 ERA in 2012, and he was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks back in October.
Presently, Steve Cishek is penciled in to be Miami's closer in 2013, and deservedly so. He saved 15 games in 19 opportunities in 2012, holding opponents to a .606 OPS in save situations. He may not be a candidate to be a lights-out closer, but he has the potential to be a solid one.
If the possibility of having a merely solid closer isn't good enough for the Marlins, then they could turn to Wilson in hopes that he could recapture his 2010 dominance. A move to Marlins Park—which is nearly as spacious as AT&T Park—could conceivably help Wilson do so.
Money would be a hurdle, as Wilson may not be willing to take a big pay cut on the $8.5 million he made in 2012. The most expensive player on the Marlins after right-hander Ricky Nolasco is owed less than $3 million in 2013, so it suffices to say that they're going to aim cheap if they can help it.
However, they could give in and pay Wilson anyway with the idea to trade him at the deadline if he were to bounce back and pitch well. They could also view Wilson as a guy who could draw a crowd.
I wouldn't put it past the Marlins to pursue Wilson for the latter line of reasoning.
The Twins barely needed a closer in 2012. They handled a grand total of 49 save opportunities, tied with the Chicago Cubs for the second-fewest in all of baseball.
Glen Perkins handled the opportunities he was given fairly well. He saved 16 games in 20 opportunities, posting a K/BB ratio of an even 9.0 in save situations.
Nonetheless, Perkins is not penciled in as Minnesota's closer for the 2013 season. With Matt Capps testing the free-agent waters, the position appears to be up for grabs.
There's a chance it could go to Wilson. He's pretty much the exact opposite of a typical Twins hurler, as he's wild both on and off the mound, but the Twins could give him a shot based on his experience and his high upside.
Like the Marlins, the Twins could also go for Wilson on a one-year deal because he could potentially be an attractive piece of trade bait come July. The Twins are in the middle of a rebuild, too, and they could end up spinning Wilson for a prospect or two if he were to come back and pitch like his old self.
There's a better chance of the Twins taking a chance on Wilson because they may be more willing to spend. Their payroll has been right around $100 million each of the last two years, yet they still have some breathing room on their payroll now with roughly $71 million in salaries committed for 2013.
There's another small-market team out there that may be a little more desperate for Wilson's services.
GM Jeff Luhnow
The Astros were in pretty much the same boat as the Twins in 2012. They only accumulated 50 save chances all season.
The Astros, however, only converted 31 of them. Their 62 percent save rate was the fifth-worst mark in all of baseball.
With Brett Myers and Wilton Lopez both gone, the Astros are without their two saves leaders from 2012. Their closer's role is now up for grabs, and there are no clear favorites to win the role in spring training.
If Wilson is looking for a closer's role that would be his by default immediately after his signature is on a contract, he should give the Astros a call. He'd be joining a lousy team, but at least he'd be assured to have a closer role all to himself.
The Astros surely wouldn't pay Wilson the kind of money he earned with the Giants in 2012, but they may be open to giving him the same kind of low-risk one-year deal that they've given to Carlos Pena and Jose Veras. As long as the opportunity to close is there, Wilson may prove willing to take a pay cut.
If the Astros were to sign Wilson to a one-year deal, there'd be no chance of them actually holding on to him in 2013. They'd wait for him to bounce back, and then they most definitely would look to trade him at the deadline. Wilson would have to anticipate as much if he were to sign a contract with them, even if he was signing up for a chance to close.
If he'd rather close for a team with a chance to contend, there may be a couple options for him out there.
The Mets' bullpen was laughably awful in 2012. Their relievers combined to post a 4.65 ERA, and they converted only 36 of 55 save chances.
Frank Francisco did his part. He only blew three saves in 48 appearances, but he compiled a 4.91 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP in save situations.
Because the Mets led all of baseball with 101 quality starts in 2012, they could have been a contender had their bullpen not been so hopeless. Even after the R.A. Dickey trade, they still have a solid rotation lined up in 2013 that could do some damage if it gets to hand the ball off to a bullpen actually capable of finishing the job.
The Mets could look to Wilson as a potential upgrade over Francisco, and it wouldn't be very hard for him to live up to such a perception if he features his old stuff upon his return.
The Mets don't have a ton of payroll space to play with, but they have enough to potentially squeeze Wilson in on a one-year deal favorable for both sides. Adam Rubin of ESPNNewYork.com has reported that the club's payroll is likely to be in the $90 million range, and right now the Mets have a little less than $71 million in salaries committed for next season.
There's one other potential National League contender out there that could view Wilson as a closer upgrade.
No bullpen in the majors was as hopeless as Milwaukee's bullpen in 2012 when it came to closing out games. The Brewers piled up as many save chances as the Baltimore Orioles, but they led the league by blowing 29 of them.
John Axford was a significant part of the problem. After blowing only two saves in 2011, Axford blew nine saves in 44 opportunities in 2012. He allowed six home runs in save situations.
Axford is still slated to be Milwaukee's closer in 2013, but GM Doug Melvin said on SiriusXM radio this week (h/t Pierce County Herald) that he's on the lookout for free-agent upgrades for his bullpen.
He didn't mention Wilson by name, but he could be brought in as either a Plan B for Axford or as an eventual replacement for Axford once he's fully healthy.
The Brewers have the money to make it happen. Their payroll was just short of $100 million on Opening Day in 2012, but right now they only have about $51 million in salaries committed for next season. They could offer Wilson precisely the kind of money he's looking for on a one-year deal, and they may even be willing to roll the dice on a multi-year deal given how flimsy Axford proved to be in 2012.
There's another contender out there that could give Wilson a nice salary, and they seem to need Wilson far more than the Brewers need him.
From left to right: Jim Leyland, Mike Ilitch, Dave Dombrowski
The Tigers don't want to go through what they went through with Jose Valverde again if they can help it. He flirted with danger every time he took the mound in 2012, and then imploded in the postseason.
Valverde is gone now, but the Tigers don't have a solid replacement for him. They've said that they're willing to give hard-throwing prospect Bruce Rondon a shot, but they may just be posturing so agents with closers to sell don't rush to take advantage of them.
In other words, they may not want to overpay Rafael Soriano, which Scott Boras seems to really want them to do. If the Tigers are posturing with their stance on Rondon, they may prefer to save themselves some money by either acquiring a closer via a trade or signing a cheap one off the free-agent market.
You know, somebody like Wilson. He has more upside than any of the other feasible closers (i.e. not Soriano) on the market, and he could be had at a price that the Tigers would find agreeable after committing $80 million to Anibal Sanchez.
Since the Tigers don't have an obvious candidate to close, the job could be all Wilson's once he gets healthy. And if he returns to pitch well, he'd be closing games for a Tigers team that looks like a lock to win the AL Central again.
If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.