Wilson non-tendered by Giants, enters free agency
Bearded reliever ranks third in franchise history with 171 saves
SAN FRANCISCO -- To remain with the Giants, Brian Wilson will have to do something that he avoids on the mound: compromise.
The Giants declined to tender a 2013 contract on Friday to Wilson, the pugnacious closer who never gives in to hitters. This sent him into free agency and cast his future with the club into doubt.
The reigning World Series champions are already preoccupied with existing concerns. With baseball's Winter Meetings slated to start on Monday in Nashville, Tenn., general manager Brian Sabean said that the Giants were stalled in efforts to achieve their top goals -- retaining second baseman Marco Scutaro and center fielder Angel Pagan, both free agents. "If we don't have a deal, that tells you we're not close," Sabean said in a conference call.
Now, Wilson, 30, gets added to that list -- though where he ranks as a priority is questionable. Nothing indicated that the parties were progressing toward an agreement. Wilson's feelings also could be bruised after being cast aside by the only organization to employ him since the Giants selected him in the 24th round of the 2003 First-Year Player Draft.
"We will stay in touch with his agent," Giants vice president of baseball operations Bobby Evans said.
At issue were Wilson's health and the Giants' economics. Wilson made only two regular-season appearances this year before undergoing season-ending Tommy John elbow surgery on April 19. It was Wilson's second career reconstructive procedure, partly accounting for the Giants' reluctance to offer him a deal.
Wilson's price tag also dissuaded the Giants, who paid him $8.5 million this year. Under terms of the Basic Agreement, San Francisco couldn't cut his salary by more than 20 percent, which would have left his base pay at $6.8 million. That, the Giants figured, was still too much money to guarantee a reliever who might not pitch again. Earlier Friday, Sabean said that Wilson's recovery was proceeding at "a snail's pace," and reported that the right-hander was throwing at a 60-foot distance on flat ground.
So unless Wilson becomes willing to accept a relatively low base salary with lucrative bonuses, he has likely pitched his final game for San Francisco.
When healthy, Wilson ranked among the game's most effective and colorful performers. His 163 saves between 2008 and 2011 -- his reign as San Francisco's closer -- was the Major Leagues' highest total over that span. Also during that stretch, he allowed just 15.1 percent of inherited baserunners to score, another big league best.
The three-time All-Star has accumulated 171 saves, third in franchise history behind Robb Nen (206) and Rod Beck (199).
Wilson reached his zenith in 2010, when the Giants won the World Series for the first time since the franchise's relocation to San Francisco in 1958. He saved 48 games, matching Beck's 1993 single-season club mark. Wilson performed even better in the postseason, yielding no earned runs and recording six saves in 10 appearances. He threw the final pitch in each postseason round -- coaxing Melky Cabrera's groundout at Atlanta in Game 4 of their National League Division Series, slipping a called third strike past Ryan Howard at Philadelphia in Game 6 of the NLCS, and fanning Nelson Cruz at Texas in Game 5 of the World Series.
During Spring Training that year, Wilson said in an interview with MLB.com, "An elite closer is a closer who's part of a World Series win. If you get that final out in the final win of the season, then you can consider yourself elite."
Wilson began that fabled 2010 season clean-shaven, but ended it with a long, thick beard -- enhancing his fierce mound persona. "Fear the Beard" T-shirts and signs proliferated at AT&T Park during the Giants' stretch drive toward the NL West title. During the team's ceremonial White House appearance the following summer, President Barack Obama looked over his shoulder, studied Wilson's beard and said approvingly, "I fear it."
Obsessed with maintaining his physical condition, Wilson began experiencing elbow problems in August 2011, a recurrence of the discomfort that forced him to undergo his first Tommy John surgery in 2003 while he attended Louisiana State University. In Spring Training of 2012, Wilson admitted that he pitched with elbow and hip pain throughout much of the 2011 season.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.