The Los Angeles Dodgers have been one of the busiest clubs in baseball this offseason, overhauling a large portion of their roster. Yesterday saw even more turnover, as the Dodgers announced their signing of right-hander Brandon McCarthy to a four year contract. To make room for McCarthy, the Dodgers designated right-handed reliever Brian Wilson for assignment.
Wilson is in the second year of a two year, $19.5 million contract. He is almost assured to clear waivers given his $9.5 million price tag, and there is little chance that he will accept an assignment to the minors. When he becomes a free agent, Wilson will be free to sign with any MLB team. Should the Tigers be interested?
Who is he?
Brian Wilson made a name for himself with the San Francisco Giants, serving as the team's closer from late 2007 through the 2011 season. A 24th round pick in 2003, Wilson racked up 171 saves in 196 chances in seven seasons with the Giants. He allowed a 3.21 ERA and 3.08 FIP in 320 innings, striking out over a batter per inning in the process. He made three All-Star teams in four years at one point, and finished seventh in the 2010 NL Cy Young voting.
Wilson was released by the Giants after missing nearly all of the 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery, the second of his career. He signed with the Dodgers in 2013, then re-upped for his current deal after allowing just one run in 13 2/3 innings down the stretch. He struggled in 2014, allowing a 4.66 ERA and 1.61 WHIP in 48 1/3 innings.
Why should we care?
Wilson didn't have a great 2014 season, but there were positive signs. He struck out 54 batters in 48 1/3 innings and generated a 7.4 percent swinging strike rate, slightly better than his final full season in San Francisco. Granted, this is still below what he did from 2008 to 2010, but his fastball still generated a 10.1 percent whiff rate. Wilson also started throwing his curveball more often, especially to open an at-bat. His 2015 Steamer projections are favorable, though ultimately predict that he will be a replacement level pitcher.
Why should we stay away?
We can all but ignore Wilson's prime seasons at this point. It has been three years since he put up any solid numbers, and four since he posted a WHIP below 1.4 in a lengthy stretch of innings. He has lost nearly three miles per hour on his fastball since his second Tommy John surgery, though he was able to reach back for some mid-90s gas at times in 2014. He started throwing more sliders than before, but his whiff rate on the pitch has dropped considerably from his years with the Giants. Opposing batters swung and missed just 8.3 percent of the time on the slider, down from a 10 percent clip throughout his career.
Wilson's walk rate was always a bit of an issue, but he struggled more than ever with his command in 2014. He walked 5.4 batters per nine innings, the highest rate of his career. His 1.86 strikeout-to-walk ratio wasn't the worst mark he's had -- he was worse in an All-Star 2011 season, believe it or not -- but walking a batter every two innings is not an effective strategy for a reliever to have. Wilson also allowed a hit per inning, leading to a WHIP of 1.61. Joe Nathan's 1.53 WHIP doesn't look too bad now, does it?
Will he end up in Detroit?
I am clamoring for the Tigers to sign a few more bullpen reclamation projects this offseason, but there are better options available on the market. Wilson was two years removed from his Tommy John surgery in 2014 and still had not regained his old velocity. The strikeout rate is nice, but Wilson is no longer able to overpower hitters like he did earlier in his career, and his offspeed stuff isn't good enough for him to get by on guile alone. They would be better off grabbing a younger arm with more upside.