Off-Season Target: C.J. Wilson


In the 2010-11 off-season, the prize of the free agent pitching market was Phillies left-hander Cliff Lee. and I’m not sure there was a bigger proponent of the Tigers throwing a truckload of money at him than me. Coming into the 2011-12 off-season, another lefty, Texas Ranger C.J. Wilson figures to be the biggest target out in the free agency market. There is good reason for that.

Wilson has spent the past 2 seasons leading the Texas Rangers into the playoffs putting up Cliff Lee like numbers. Wilson has posted a record of 31-15 with an ERA of 3.14 as the ace of the pitching staff. He has averaged a little above 8k/9, and this season has the lowest walk rate of his career at just 3BB/9. Even more encouraging from Wilson is that as a converted reliever, he has pitched more than 200 innings in each of the last two seasons. At just 31 years old at the end of season, Wilson is about to get paid.

Yesterday I wrote an article suggesting that Andy Dirks would be sufficient as a starting outfielder for the Tigers, especially if it meant saving some money by not signing Delmon Young. It’s no knock on Young who has been good in a Tigers uniform, but just a reasonable savings in order to get some money for a game changing starting pitcher like Wilson. Along with the money coming off the books from Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez, if the Tigers play things right, they could easily be in the sweepstakes for C.J. Wilson.

Wilson, who looks like he is developing into a perennial Cy Young award winner, would be a tremendous addition to an already strong starting pitching staff. With Wilson added to the Tigers, their rotation would rival the quality of the Philadelphia Phillies, pushing Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello into 4th and 5th starters spots in the rotation. That would just be unfair to most opponents who have to fill those spots with journeyman and rookies.

A move like signing Wilson would also offer the Tigers some flexibility to fix other holes as well, either now or in the future. In 2015, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello hit free agency, and in 2016 the same goes for Doug Fister. If the Tigers wanted to find a 2nd baseman, 3rd baseman or an outfielder, they could choose to move Scherzer or Porcello as soon as next season. Or they could keep them all for 2012-13, and just dominate opponents by out-pitching them.

Signing Wilson would also allow the Tigers to continue to develop pitchers like Jacob Turner and Drew Smyly for another season in the minors.

There is of course a downside to signing a big time free agent like Wilson. One, financially it would tie a lot of money into 2 starting pitchers. By most estimates, Wilson is slated to get anywhere between 15-18M per season. The length of the term is more than likely going to have to be 4 years or more, meaning a deal of around 4 years and 70M is not out of the question. Does the Tigers organization really want to tie up 35M+ in their top two starters? Maybe, maybe not. Especially considering that three of their pitchers are working towards larger pay days around the same time. At some point, the Tigers would have to move Scherzer, Porcello or Fister because they won’t be able to pay them all.

Another downside is the potential for injury with Wilson. I don’t particularly think Wilson is any more susceptible to injury than the next guy, but it is a concern with starting pitchers and long contracts. Not to mention that while I applaud the fact that Wilson has gone 400+ innings the last 2 seasons, if you add in the post-season, that is a lot of wear and tear on an arm that was pitching out of the bullpen not long ago.

That being said, I would definitely be on board with signing Wilson. The potential dividends of a dominant starting rotation outweigh the risks in this case. The money shouldn’t be an issue here to the Tigers organization, the bigger issue would be if Wilson would want to pitch in Detroit. A World Series run could help convince Wilson that this would be a good place to play.

While it would likely force a decision on which guys to move in trades a couple years down the road, it would be worth it. One, the Tigers would win a lot of games, and two, the guys that would be traded off would bring back a pretty good haul in return. The move not only could make the Tigers good in 2012, but for a long time to come as well if the right deals are made. That is something I trust Dombrowski to do well at this point, and that is make trades.

Starting pitching may not be the most pressing need for the Tigers, but then again, if the Phillies thought that way last year, they wouldn’t have went after Cliff Lee. It seems to be paying off nicely for them, and sometimes being a copycat is the best way to be successful.

Hopefully the Tigers steal that idea from the Phillies and make a serious run at Wilson.