The Detroit Tigers’ bullpen has drawn the ire of the team’s fan base over the past several seasons, and with good reason. But one bright spot among the parade of relief pitchers who have taken the mound to protect a lead for the Tigers in the late innings has been Justin Wilson. MLB Trade Rumors ranks Wilson No. 6 on their list of potential trade candidates this season. Here is a look at his trade profile:
Contract: The Tigers agreed to terms with Wilson on a $2.7 million salary for the 2017 season. He will be eligible for arbitration one more time before being eligible for free agency after the 2018 season.
Trade limitations: There are no limitations that would prevent Detroit from trading Justin Wilson, should they desire to do so.
Why he could be traded: Should the Tigers make Justin Wilson available in a trade, he would immediately be one of the most attractive relief pitchers on the market. Not only is he the Tigers’ closer, with ten saves to his credit, but he has easily been the best relief pitcher on the team, and one of the best in the game recently.
Wilson has an ERA of 2.34, ERA + of 188, a WHIP of 0.92, and he strikes out 12.84 batters per nine innings. He has struck out 49 hitters while walking just 13 in 34 innings this season. The fact that he pitches left handed is an added bonus.
The market for relief pitchers is limited, with the White Sox’s David Robertson and the Mets’ Addison Reed being the others with closing experience, and San Diego’s Brad Hand being the other premier left hander available. Robertson, however, is signed for $23 million over the next two seasons, while Reed would be a rental, due to become a free agent after this season.
Wilson is not limited to closing duties, and is not making closer money at least so far in his career, and that makes him very attractive to contender seeking bullpen help for a playoff run. There is no team where such a pitcher would not be a welcome addition to the roster.
Why he may not be traded: The Tigers’ bullpen struggles are well documented. If they are going to trade their top relief pitcher, creating even greater need for relief help, they will want tangible assets in return. Trading Justin Wilson does not provide much salary relief, and his pending last season of arbitration is not intimidating. His salary is a bargain for the value that he provides. Losing Justin Wilson would put the team farther from having a contending roster, at least in the short term.
If the return is not to the Tigers liking, and it was not sufficient to trade him last off season, then the Tigers might just hang onto Justin Wilson and try again in the winter as teams looking for closing help are experiencing sticker shock from the free agent market rates, or they may bring him back to close games in 2018.
Trade value: Wilson will not command the kind of return that the Yankees got for Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman last July. New York got four prospects from the Chicago Cubs for a couple months of Chapman’s services, including MLB’s No. 27 prospect, and another four prospects from the Indians for Miller.
The Cubs replaced Chapman over the winter by trading outfielder Jorge Soler to Kansas City for closer Wade Davis, who had a year left before free agency. The Red Sox gave up two prospects for Arizona’s Brad Ziegler. An infielder who ranked No. 8 in the Boston system, and a 20 year old pitcher. Miami gave up Chris Paddock, MLB’s No. 17 ranked prospect for a rental of Fernando Rodney.
Wilson has some closing experience, and has great numbers with a bargain contract and a year left before free agency. His trade value will depend upon the demand, which should be very strong, even for teams not necessarily in need of a closer. For Tigers’ fans, trading Wilson could be a signal that the club is looking past the 2018 season in terms of fielding a contender.