COMMENTARY | For me, Brian Wilson will always be the guy who was on the mound when the Giants won their first World Series championship in San Francisco.
I never cared about the beard, or The Machine, or his antics off the field. I only cared about how he pitched and over a four-year period, the way he pitched made him the best closer the Giants had seen since Robb Nen.
That's why there's part of me that dreads the decision the Giants face in a matter of days on whether or not to tender Wilson a contract. The Giants must offer Wilson a salary of at least $6.8 million (80 percent of his 2012 salary) or risk losing him to free agency. The smart money says the Giants let him test the market -- and it would be the right move. He simply isn't worth the risk.
Committing that kind of money to Wilson, who is coming off of his second Tommy John surgery, would be -- hmm, which word to choose? -- crazy. Lunacy. Unwise. Take your pick. There's no guarantee that Wilson will return to his All-Star form; heck, there's no guarantee that Wilson will return at all. That's too significant of a salary to risk on a guy who might not pitch in 2013, especially for a team like the Giants that likes to keep some financial flexibility over the course of a season.
Plus, the Giants have proved they can survive and thrive without Wilson because of the depth of their bullpen. Sergio Romo was dominant in the postseason and looks poised to take over as the team's closer. The Giants recently re-signed Jeremy Affeldt, who's proved he can get both left-handed and right-handed hitters out. The Giants also must decide whether or not to tender a contract to Santiago Casilla, who's a better bet than Wilson to stay healthy and be productive. There are enough options to where Wilson won't likely be missed.
Non-tendering Wilson may be the safe, smart move for the Giants, but that doesn't mean that the team shouldn't pursue Wilson in free agency once they cut him loose. If he would be open to a deal for a lower-base salary loaded with incentives, it'd be a low-risk move with a potentially high reward should Wilson bounce back from his injury. And if he somehow regained his dominant form, the backend of the Giants' bullpen would be even more fearsome than it already is.
The chances of that happening are slim, unfortunately. Given the state of the relief pitching market, there's likely a team out there that will offer Wilson more guaranteed money than the Giants would and bank on him being their closer. If and when the Giants non-tender him, Brian Wilson's days as a Giant are likely over.
And while it's the smart move, it won't be the easiest move. His antics may be growing stale and his beard may be growing out of control, but Wilson was a force on the mound for the Giants. After years of suffering through Armando Benitez, Dustin Hermanson, Matt Herges, and others trying to close games, Wilson and his blazing fastball locked down a spot that had been a problem for the Giants for years. He was an unstoppable force during the team's 2010 run, pitching through high-pressure situations while likely damaging his elbow in the process. If he really is done in San Francisco, he left everything on the field.
No matter what happens between the San Francisco Giants and Brian Wilson, both will land on their feet. The Giants will still have an impressive collection of relievers, and Wilson will find a job with another team. It's sad, though, that one of the best closers San Francisco has seen won't finish his career with the Giants. But it seems like the writing is on the wall, and it's time for the two sides to split.
If this is the end, thanks for a great run, Brian Wilson. And cut that ridiculous beard.
Dave Tobener has been a Giants fan longer than he's actually been alive...it's science. You can find him on Twitter @gggiants or his Giants blog www.GoldenGateGiants.com.