The Giants were criticized after 2010 for giving in to emotion and sentimentality, spending money to retain the free agents from their championship team. For an example, with the benefit of hindsight, I'm going to suggest the Aubrey Huff contract might have been -- just might have been -- a mistake.
I think that narrative is a bit overblown, though. The Giants were outbid for Juan Uribe, Cody Ross wasn't a free agent, and Pat Burrell came back for just over the league minimum. That's before you even look into the logic of re-signing Huff. He had a 142 OPS+, so even if you figured he was going to give back some of those gains, he was still going to be valuable. He wasn't supposed to leave all of the gains in the restroom of a Greyhound station. It was nice to have the gang back, sure, but it's not like the moves didn't make any baseball sense at the time.
If you want a real test of sentimentality, this offseason is a better test. Not with Marco Scutaro or Angel Pagan, who play positions the Giants would need to fill anyway. Not with Jeremy Affeldt, who is a bullpen woobie for Bruce Bochy. This test has to do with Brian Wilson.
According to Matt Swartz, who's pretty good at this over at MLB Trade Rumors, Wilson is in line for something like $8.5 million in his final year of arbitration. Strip away all of the marketing and sentimental reasons for offering Wilson arbitration, and just look at it from a baseball perspective. He's a reliever coming off Tommy John surgery. It's pretty hard for a healthy reliever to be worth $8.5 million in his prime. The only reason to offer Wilson arbitration is to make sure his feelings aren't hurt, or as a gesture of goodwill for services rendered.
And that's not something to dismiss automatically. Cutting Wilson loose and writing "K.I.T. have a good summer" in his yearbook might affect how free agents look at the Giants, and it might affect the Giants' ability to retain their own free agents. So there's a risk. It's just not a risk that's easy to quantify, and it almost certainly isn't a risk worth an $8.5 million deterrent.
Since Wilson probably won't be ready to pitch until the middle of next season, the Giants don't appear to be in position to commit to him by the Nov. 30 tender date. That means he is likely to hit the open market as a free agent.
"This was his second (Tommy John), and if anyone could defy the odds, it would be him," Sabean said. "But he's a long way from being at full strength, which means he's a long way from being cleared medically. It's wait and see. Until I get more medical information, we're not going near the subject."
Wilson will get a one-year deal somewhere. There's no reason for him to not want to hit the market again next season if he really is healthy, and it's not like teams will line up to give him an expensive two-year deal to forget about that.
But the Giants have a bullpen that's pretty good already. It's getting more expensive, too, with Jeremy Affeldt's new contract, and Sergio Romo and Santiago Casilla advancing through the arbitration ranks. The Giants have needs, but another right-handed arm isn't that close to the top, especially if we're talking about one that will command a fair amount of money.
There are all sorts of questions that I can't answer. Would the Giants even want to move Romo back to a setup role? If not, wouldn't Wilson be better off gunning for a contract as a closer for another team? How much does the fan-favorite part factor in when it comes to merchandising? If the Giants pay Wilson $1 million more than the next-best offer, do the jersey/bobblehead/shirsey sales make up a portion of that?
Dunno. It will be an interesting test of the Giants' willingness to make callous-if-defensible decisions after the second championship. Wilson was one of the founding fathers of the new era of Giants baseball, after all. He closed for a team that started the season with an Aurilia/Ortmeier platoon at first. He's been around longer than anyone other than Matt Cain. Is that worth a couple million more than the Giants would normally pay for a reliever coming off his second Tommy John surgery?
I'm guessing yes. And -- stop me if you've heard this rationalization before -- as long as it doesn't affect the team's ability to re-sign or sign the players they want, I'm all for it. I don't want to see him in a Diamondbacks uniform or something. Not yet. Hopefully they'll work something out.