Brian Wilson and his overgrown black beard might be headed out of the Bay Area.
The San Francisco Giants declined to tender a one-year contract to the closer by Friday night's 9 p.m. deadline, making him a free agent as he recovers from a second ligament-replacement surgery on his right elbow.
Wilson was the 2010 major league saves leader with 48, but made only two appearances for the World Series champions this year after experiencing elbow trouble in April.
He underwent reconstructive Tommy John surgery April 19, his second such procedure on his pitching elbow after also having it done while in college at LSU in 2003. Dr. James Andrews performed both operations.
Wilson missed the team's run to its second championship in three years. The 30-year-old Wilson, who earned $8.5 million during his injury-shortened 2012 season, would be due to make at least $6.8 million next year under the rule limiting pay cuts to a maximum of 20 percent. By letting him go free, the Giants can sign him for a lower price, though the pitcher has apparently already hinted he will look for work elsewhere.
Bobby Evans, the team's vice president of baseball operations, said the Giants had declined to offer Wilson a contract a move that was hardly unexpected given the uncertainty surrounding when the right-hander might be ready. In addition, San Francisco saw during the club's latest postseason run that Sergio Romo was a reliable ninth-inning option in Wilson's place.
``I like our choices, including him being one, as we start the regular season,'' general manager Brian Sabean said earlier Friday. When asked whether Romo showed enough during his impressive playoff run to be the regular closer, Sabean said: ``That's tough to answer because of the off days.'' Wilson has spent all seven of his major league seasons with San Francisco after the Giants selected him in the 24th round of the 2003 draft.
He got the final out in Game 5 of the 2010 World Series at Texas to clinch the franchise's first championship since moving West in 1958. Wilson finished 6-4 with a 3.11 ERA and 36 saves in 57 appearances in 2011, but was held out down the stretch as a precaution. He had taken all the important steps in his rehab during spring training this year, so the injury caught everybody by surprise.
The three-time All-Star complained of discomfort in the elbow April 13 and was sent for an MRI exam. Wilson threw 32 pitches at Colorado a day earlier while working on back-to-back days, and had to be checked on once. Athletic trainer Dave Groeschner said Wilson felt something in the elbow that day, then told the team a day later. Messages left for Wilson and his agent went unreturned.
``It's really a snail's pace at this time,'' Sabean said of Wilson's rehab regimen. ``Not a ton expected.
He's throwing 60 feet flat ground.'' Sabean said how the rest of the bullpen might shape up depends on whether the Giants are able to re-sign second baseman Marco Scutaro and center fielder Angel Pagan of which he said, ``We don't have a deal, so that tells you we're not close.''
``We have fallback positions,'' Sabean said. ``We've created some options if one or both doesn't decide to sign with us.'' And Sabean didn't seem convinced those negotiations would move fast, meaning the brass could return from next week's winter meetings in Nashville, Tenn., still in flux on those two free agents.
Sabean has said they are two of his top priorities after left-hander Jeremy Affeldt received an $18 million, three-year contract Nov. 14. That was a key first step to keeping the talented bullpen together.
``We may be prepared to go with the same group,'' Sabean said of the relievers. San Francisco's front office has begun internal conversations about a new deal for NL MVP and batting champion Buster Posey that would get the club through his arbitration years or perhaps further. ``We're open to that.
He certainly deserves that consideration,'' Sabean said. ``I would think it would be later on.''