Payroll, health concerns may hinder Wilson's return
Three-time All-Star reliever has undergone Tommy John surgery twice
SAN FRANCISCO -- The Giants' expanding payroll exacerbates the risk that the club would face by tendering Brian Wilson a 2013 contract.These cold, hard facts explain why Wilson, the beloved and bearded reliever, could be an ex-Giant after Friday night's deadline passes for clubs to offer contracts to unsigned players. Despite his status as a three-time National League All-Star, Wilson has been considered a non-tender candidate since he underwent his second Tommy John elbow surgery in April. The urgency surrounding the issue escalated late Monday when the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Giants officials have "hinted" that Wilson won't receive a contract offer. Neither side spoke publicly Tuesday when approached for comment. Baseball's Basic Agreement prohibits teams from trimming a player's salary by more than 20 percent. The Giants thus must offer Wilson, who earned $8.5 million this year, no less than $6.8 million following a season in which he made two appearances before surgery sidelined him. The Giants conceivably could non-tender Wilson, which would make him a free agent, but still sign him to a deal including a low base salary garnished by lucrative performance bonuses. In this case, "low" would have to be quite low in relative terms -- probably less than $2 million -- because the reigning World Series champions already are running out of payroll room. The Giants are believed to be prepared to increase the player payroll from this year's level of approximately $130 million. But that figure won't grow dramatically. They already have committed approximately $84 million to eight players: right-hander Tim Lincecum ($22.25 million), right-hander Matt Cain ($20.8 million), left-hander Barry Zito ($20 million), third baseman Pablo Sandoval ($5.7 million), left-hander Jeremy Affeldt ($5 million), right-hander Ryan Vogelsong ($5 million), left-hander Javier Lopez ($4.25 million) and left-hander Madison Bumgarner ($950,000). MLBTradeRumors.com projected that seven salary arbitration-eligible Giants ultimately will receive more than $32 million: right fielder Hunter Pence (predicted 2013 salary: $13.8 million), catcher Buster Posey ($5.9 million), right-hander Santiago Casilla ($5.4 million), right-hander Sergio Romo ($3.6 million), left-hander Jose Mijares ($1.6 million), outfielder Gregor Blanco ($1.3 million) and infielder Joaquin Arias ($800,000). If those projections are close to being accurate, the Giants will have spent $116 million on 15 players. Should the Giants succeed in retaining free agents Marco Scutaro and Angel Pagan, their 2013 salaries easily would push the payroll beyond $130 million and into the $135 million range. San Francisco still would have to pay eight more members of the 25-man Opening Day roster. Since non-arbitration-eligible performers such as shortstop Brandon Crawford, first baseman Brandon Belt, catcher Hector Sanchez and right-hander George Kontos have to accept whatever management offers them, they're not much of a payroll burden. But should the Giants wish to add a significant free agent -- and they could use another outfielder and some pitching depth -- the active roster's price tag would soar past $145 million, representing more than a 10 percent hike from 2012. Then again, the Giants operated with similar increases in each of the previous three years as they won two World Series and extended their streak of consecutive winning seasons to four. Wilson, of course, was essential to much of that success. But the payroll mathematics, along with the questionable state of his pitching arm, demonstrate why the Giants might be reluctant to offer him even the 20 percent salary reduction.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.