In the middle of the playoffs last year, a national baseball writer -- can't remember who, unfortunately -- tweeted a quote from a scout that intimated C.J. Wilson's playoff performance was going to mean a $40-million swing for him in free agency. As in, if Wilson ripped through the playoffs like a vegan Josh Beckett, he'd make $40 million more than he would have otherwise.
It seemed ridiculous at the time. How could owners and GMs be swayed by a month's worth of exhibition games against teams that, by definition, had really good hitters? A $40-million swing didn't seem likely. And yet, as Wilson struggled throughout the playoffs, it seemed less and less ridiculous. When the rosin settled, Wilson signed a five-year, $77.5-million contract. I'm no GM, but I'm pretty sure that's less than what he thought he'd get before the playoffs started.
He's really good again, of course. It seems like there are all sorts of Gio Gonzalez articles out there, and the baseball world is rightfully agog over R.A. Dickey. Meanwhile, in Southern California, C.J. Wilson is in the middle of another fantastic season. He enters Tuesday's start with a 2.44 and a 156 ERA+, which would both be the best marks of his career as a starting pitcher. And no one really cares. You accidentally clicked on this link, thinking it was something on Carnie Wilson. Heck, C.J. Wilson isn't even on the Wikipedia page for C.J.s. He's just pitching his little heart out, getting outs.
It's worth revisiting why he was such a hard free agent to peg. Based on his numbers, he was clearly one of the best pitchers in baseball. He threw a ton of innings -- 480 over the last two seasons, including the playoffs. And he prevented runs as if he were a good pitcher in Petco Park, yet he pitched in one of the most difficult pitching environments in the majors. For most of a decade, the Rangers were cycling through Adam Eatons and Ryan Drese, desperate to find a rotation anchor. Wilson came out of nowhere to be that guy.
He hadn't been a starter for that long, though. He was already over 30 when he hit free agency. The workload on two pennant-winning teams was a little worrisome. And, yes, the playoff struggles were impossible to ignore. It added up to a fascinating free agent that no one really knew what to make of. C.J. Wilson wasn't getting a lot of six- and seven-year offers for $22 million per year because no one felt that comfortable with the idea of C.J. Wilson, top-tier starting pitcher. And you couldn't blame the wary teams. Those were valid points.
But look at the contract again. Look at the performance. Back to the contract. It's a totally reasonable contract. It isn't unnecessarily long. It doesn't have a bloated annual salary. C.J. Wilson is having another All-Star season, and he came $50 million cheaper than, say, Barry Zito.
This is all looking through the prism of June, of course. Maybe if he struggles through another playoff round or three, he'll be as unexciting as ever. But if you wondered how long it would take to get comfortable with the idea of C.J. Wilson, top-tier pitcher, the answer was three more months. Another half-season. That's how close he might have been to an even more substantial contract. If he were magically a free agent now, I'd wager that he'd blow his current contract out of the water. All it took was another few months to convince me, at least.
Wilson isn't the perfect pitcher. He struggles with his command, and that prevents him from being dominant. But if the job of a pitcher is to throw innings with both quality and quantity, Wilson is one of the very best starting pitchers in the game. Again. And no one's really noticing. If you ask his peers, he's hardly anything special at all. But he keeps pitching well. C.J. Wilson, top-o'-the-rotation pitcher is an idea that took some getting used to, but I think we're all used to it now.