Shades of early 2011: The Giants win in the bottom of the ninth Saturday night, with what could have been a big hit. With bases loaded, no one out, Melky Cabrera hit a sharp grounder but placed it badly, right at the drawn-in shortstop Clint Barmes, but his throw home to force Manny Burriss was off-line. Barry Zito pitched well again, with only two earned runs allowed in seven innings.
But the news of the day, as you probably know, is Brian Wilson's elbow. Bruce Bochy announced before the game that Wilson has "structural damage" and will seek more medical opinion, but it doesn't look good. I guess we'll now know to be more skeptical when a pitcher steps off the mound, looking aggravated, and when he throws his next pitch his top velocity suddenly drops from the mid-90s to the mid to high-80s. I won't speculate whether those few extra pitches did further, lasting damage. I don't know enough about the stringy bits inside to be intelligent about it.
But it's obvious the Giants knew the possibility was imminent last season, when they shut Wilson down after his August injury and brought him along slowly this spring. Sabean said his largesse toward Javy Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt this winter was motivated in part by concern over Wilson.
So let's assume Wilson is done for the year. What's next? I'm cool with a closer-by-committee approach. Bruce Bochy seems amenable to it, too, which should give him some new-school cred (not that he cares), because the last time a team tried it -- although under less drastic circumstances -- Fenway Park nearly burned down from the talk-radio and newspaper-columnist conflagration.
Will the Giants panic and trade for a closer? I think not soon, and not until trying all sorts of possibilities, including AAA closer Heath Hembree. But first Hembree needs to spend at least a couple months dominating the Pacific Coast League. (He's off to a good start.)
And what's in store next year? Brian Wilson is eligible for arbitration one more time, which means a raise above his current $8.5 million salary. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think a team and player can avoid arb by agreeing on a contract that's a pay cut. So it's either a raise by agreement, a raise by arbitration award, or -- the big hammer -- a release. It's hard to imagine the Giants, no matter how warm the feelings toward Wilson, agreeing on a one-year deal at $9 million or more, when they probably won't know his elbow status.
I asked for opinions on twitter earlier tonight, and apart from the smart-asses, the responses were roughly split between non-tender (ie, release) and trade. I'm not sure who's going to trade for a two-time TJ patient with nearly $10 million coming due before seeing him throw a single post-surgery pitch. Not gonna happen.
Here's a suggestion: Brian Wilson loves San Francisco. San Francisco loves Brian Wilson. Why not release him, technically make him a free agent, but re-sign him to a low base salary (say, $1 or 2 million) larded with tons of incentives, including a lucrative second-year option triggered by reachable milestones. If he refuses and thinks he can get a Papelbonian contract from someone, more power to him. But his best bet is to stay here, where he'll get lots of love even if the elbow is never right again, and try to build back his value on a make-good contract. Again, that might not be possible. There are weird rules I can never quite get right related to teams releasing players and re-signing them. But if Wilson returns in 2013 with a healthy elbow, a rested body and lots of fire in the belly, it would be nice to see him in a Giant uniform -- and crazy not to take a little bit of risk on that possibility. As long as it makes sense for both sides.