Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Matt Holliday Proves Brian Wilson Should Be Touchable

Brian Sabean recently said that the San Francisco Giants consider several players untouchable. Among the players he named were Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain, and Brian Wilson. To me, Cy Young and Cain make perfect sense.

But Brian Wilson?

Let me start by saying I am a die-hard Giants' fan and have been since soon after my family moved to the Bay Area in 1987. I have seen several iterations of closers pass through the Orange and Black. The list is long and, at times, ignominious:

Scott Garrelts, Steve Bedrosian, Craig Lefferts, Jeff Brantley, Dave Righetti, Rod Beck, Rob Nen, Tim Worrell (oh man...), Matt Herges (...I think...), Dustin Hermanson (...I'm gonna be...), Tyler Walker (...sick...), Armando Benitez (...and there it is), Mike Stanton, Brad Hennessey, and Brian Wilson.

Except for the move from Beck to Nen, it hasn't been a smooth ride.

So I appreciate the value of a reliable fireman. And I would put Wilson, after just one full year on the job, behind only Nen and Beck. Those are the Giants' best and two of the best in baseball's history at the role.

So I appreciate Brian Wilson's considerable value in particular.

But to label him untouchable is, in my opinion, a bad mistake (unless of course it's a bargaining ploy by Sabean, which is entirely possible). I believe that for the following reasons:

1. Genuinely reliable closers are exceptionally rare, but impostors come along frequently.

Problem is, they're impossible to tell apart at first because both can come from anywhere at any time, but the impostors will regress to kerosene with equal unpredictability.

Joakim Soria? Jonathan Papelbon? Joe Nathan? Francisco Rodriguez? Jose Valverde? Kerry Wood? George Sherrill? Please explain a science of predicting these guys.

Or take a guy like Brad Lidge. He came from nowhere, aped the Sandman, then got torched, and now he's back to dominating - having just polished off a perfect season at the end of games.

Or Manny Corpas. He rose to filthy heights from nowhere last year and was so bad this year that he couldn't make it out of May with the job.

Bottom line - closers are as unpredictable as the rest of the bullpen, which means a seemingly reliable guy could go up just as easily as you could pluck the next Soria from the scrap heap. Only a couple guys are exceptions to this and it's too early to tell regarding Wilson.

2. Only championship contenders really need to find and hold a lights-out closer.

Sure, it's frustrating to blow late leads for any team. But the warm-and-fuzzy security that the best closers provide comes at a steep price. They are outrageously expensive to sign and/or to keep plus their full value isn't realized until they can enter those coal-to-diamond situations in which they so inexplicably and uniquely thrive.

A rebuilding or even marginal contender probably won't ever create those situations. Therefore, such a team wastes money that could be spent on more useful players that don't require the terminal stages of championship contention to approach full value.

A reliable closer is a luxury item.

In an ideal world, he is the final piece to a championship because acquiring one too soon can actually retard World Series aspirations.

3. The San Francisco Giants are not realistically going to be a championship contender next year, as is.

I recently wrote an article advocating a move or two this offseason to make the Giants playoff contenders. In that piece, I said any team that makes the playoffs is a championship contender. But playoff contention does not actually require making the playoffs.

I sincerely believe the Gents are a good-sized move or two away from playoff contention. I also sincerely believe they are several bigger moves away from actually making the playoffs.

Everything could break right for SF and they could find themselves inexplicably playing for baseball's biggest prize in 2009, but I doubt a money closer will make or break those odds.

4. Huston Street is the centerpiece of the Matt Holliday trade.

Didn't I say that closers were outrageously expensive?

I'm not going to go through the stats because they are so incomparable as to be useless. Suffice it to say that, although Carlos Gonzalez is a promising young player, his offensive contribution is not going to replace Holliday's any time soon, if ever. And Greg Smith, while also promising, just had elbow surgery.

Additionally, the Rockies figure to lose Brian Fuentes to free agency and Corpas was, ahem, unsteady in the closer's role last year.

In other words, the two young guys are relative question marks and long-term projects at best. Colorado figured to lose its closer and had no attractive replacement. That means, the main and immediate prize for Matt Holliday was Huston Street.

5. Brian Wilson is insanely better than Huston Street.

You can draw any conclusion you want based on the peripheral stats. In truth, they are very similar. But for a closer, only one stat matters and that is save percentage.

Wilson was 41 for 47. Street lost the job after going 18 for 25. Argument over.

So if Huston Street plus some blue-chip prospects equals Matt Holliday, what could SF get for Brian Wilson? And if Oakland's budget allowed them to go after a guy like Holliday, what could San Francisco's considerably larger budget produce?

I doubt Colorado would have traded Holliday to a division rival so I don't mean to imply that, had Sabean been willing to move Wilson, we could be watching Matt Holliday in SF's outfield next year.

But I do mean to imply that San Francisco might be able to land a similar whale for Brian Wilson and some of the young guys. The right whale would be worth it because Wilson may or may not be the genuine article.

And, even though I think he is the real deal, Wilson's more valuable to the Giants ultimate goal if he's walking out the door.

Of course, Brian Wilson and Tim Lincecum are apparently close friends. So, what if trading Wilson would upset the Franchise?

In that case, forget I wrote anything.

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