The Giants’ decision to non-tender former closer Brian Wilson comes as no surprise given his season-ending Tommy John surgery and that the Giants won the World Series without him. Because he would have made $6.8 million next season, even without the World Series win and Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla functioning as the replacement closers in Wilson’s absence, it’s likely the Giants would have let him go regardless of team results. But Wilson’s performance in the Giants first World Series win two years ago, popularity with the fans from his outlandish personality, and his status as a clubhouse leader might have created a groundswell for the team to bring him back at a reduced salary—something they’ve indicated no intention to do.
Would the Giants be so willing to let Wilson leave without a perfunctory offer had the season not ended as successfully as it did? Would they let him leave if they hadn’t found a suitable replacement in Romo, a backup in Casilla, a deep bullpen and a manager Bruce Bochy who is capable of operating without the security blanket of the built-in excuse of “X is my closer” to explain away what, in the earlier innings, would be seen as a strategic gaffe if he used the wrong pitcher at the wrong time against the wrong hitter?
The cold-blooded and right move is, of course, to non-tender Wilson, but the right move isn’t a byproduct of running a baseball team as a business as if it was Apple or IBM. Clubs who have tried different strategies with their late-inning relievers have been affected by reactions from fans, media, and players. The Red Sox cost themselves dearly in the 2003 season with their ill-fated attempt to use the prototypical “right” pitcher for the situation regardless of the inning. The intentions were noble and made sense, but the pitchers they used weren’t any good and the situation snowballed as the closer-by-committee was judged to have been the root of all Red Sox ills that year.
Utilizing semantics, they explained away the decision to rectify the mistake of 2003 by signing Keith Foulke for 2004 and downplaying the 2003 strategy, extolling the virtues of an established closer if he was able to get both lefties and righties out and was cost-effective. They received one healthy season from Foulke in spite of paying him nearly $21 million for three years and since they won their first World Series in 86 years, I’m sure they’ll say it was worth every single penny to pay him that amount of money for a single year of good work. They also eliminated the ambiguity and embarrassment from the previous year in looking unprepared, arrogant, and bottom line stupid for going with the closer-by-committee in the manner they did in the first place.
Wilson will be signed by another team and will get a chance to close. He recovered from Tommy John surgery before, is a good bet to do so again and return to the pitcher and person who was so imperative to the Giants during his career. The Giants’ success gave them freedom to do what’s right for them in the moment. There’s nothing to sell because the fans are rightfully starstruck by the two glossy trophies the Giants have collected in the last three years. The first in 2010 was a direct result of having Wilson as their closer; the other in 2012 wasn’t. The second is letting them make the sound financial maneuver when, without it, they might have encountered greater resistance to letting Wilson leave as they’re clearly going to do.