There’s nothing worse than a good team with a bad bullpen. The 2004 Giants are the example that hits closest to home -- Matt Herges is a nice guy, but he’s a closer like Pedro Feliz is a catcher.
Wait, there might be something worse than a good team with a bad bullpen: a bad team with a bad bullpen. How you doin’? There’s just something extra demoralizing about a reliever snatching defeat from the jaws of victory. Over a 162-game season, a terrible bullpen can really cheese a fanbase off. So I can understand the desire to lock up key members of the bullpen. The Giants signed Jeremy Affeldt to an extension, and now the word on the street is that they bought out two of Brian Wilson’s arbritration years for a total of $15M.
A good bullpen is just swell to have. And Brian Wilson is a good closer, with the potential to get better. But this move doesn’t make a lot of sense. I don’t hate it. I don’t have a visceral reaction to the move. It’s just...why?
The Giants have three more years of arbitration with Wilson. The going rate for a super-proven closer is $11M or so. That’s where you’ll find relievers like Joe Nathan and Francisco Rodriguez. That’s also not where you find arbitration-eligible closers. The commitment to Wilson -- $6.5M in 2011 and $8.5M in 2012 -- is at an average salary close to what players like Bobby Jenks and Jonathan Broxton got when they avoided arbitration this year. But if Jenks or Broxton get hurt -- say, if they accidentally swallow their own hands in a freak pie-eating contest -- or if they pitch poorly enough to lose their closer jobs, their teams aren’t on the hook for next year. The Giants would be. And by giving up their flexibility they gain...nothing, really. It’s hard to see Wilson getting much more $15M in arbitration over the next two seasons, even if he pitches as well as he did last season.
Good for B-Weezy for securing his future. Wilson was in line to get the kind of draft bonus that can provide for a long time, but he blew out his arm. He worked hard to get back to this position, and that $15M can by a lot of fur-lined coats. But where was the urgency? Maybe I’m underestimating just how nasty the arbitration process is. Still, if I’m worried about my closer getting a wadded jockstrap over the mean things said in arbitration, I’m worried that my closer will get a wadded jockstrap when he blows a save, and that would make me worried that he might be too sensitive for the job, which would mean I wouldn’t be too keen on committing to him long-term, which would then suggest that arbitration is the way to go, unless I was worried that my closer getting a wadded jockstrap over the mean things said in arbitration....
Yesterday, the Giants had control of Brian Wilson through 2013. Today, the Giants have control of Brian Wilson through 2013. If Wilson pitches even better than expected, this deal will save the Giants, what, $3M? That’s not an insignificant amount of money, but it’s not worth the risk. The risk is that the Giants find themselves in a situation similar to 2003 and 2004, when they paid Robb Nen $18M not to pitch, or a situation similar to the Benitez era, when they paid $20M+ for an ineffective tub of rendered lipids. Relievers are volatile creatures. One season’s Joel Zumaya is the next season’s Joel Zumaya. I’m just not sure what the Giants were trying to avoid.