By Jason Shetler
Much of the 2017 season has revolved around the Pirates being sellers, because of their inconsistent play, in addition to not gaining much ground in the NL Central standings, even when they play well. That trend has changed quickly however. After being eight games behind first place in the division, entering this past Sunday, the Pirates now find themselves just three back, this after sweeping the Milwaukee Brewers in a four game series.
The Pirates bullpen has performed much better collectively in July, which has obviously been a reason for the team’s success recently. Despite Tony Watson pitching better as of late in particular, he could still be a trade candidate come the deadline. A few days ago, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reported that the Tampa Bay Rays have interest in trading for Watson. Should the Pirates decide to go “addition by subtraction” with the bullpen, perhaps they could look to acquire a familiar face in Justin Wilson.
In the 2008 MLB Draft, the Pirates selected Wilson as a fifth rounder out of Fresno State. After pitching as a starter in the Bucs system, he joined the big club in August of 2012 as a reliever. As expected, Wilson displayed harder velocity in relief, and it helped him become a vital part of the Pirates playoff contending bullpen in 2013 and 2014.
Following the 2014 season, Russell Martin rejected the Pirates qualifying offer, becoming a free agent in the process. Knowing it would be very difficult to re-sign him, the Pirates searched for a new catcher instead. In a somewhat surprising move, Wilson was dealt to the New York Yankees in exchange for Francisco Cervelli.
After just one season in New York, Wilson was on the move prior to last season, as he was traded to the Detroit Tigers. This past offseason, the Tigers avoided arbitration with Wilson by signing him to a one-year deal worth $2.7 million.
Wilson took over as the Tigers closer in early May, following the struggles of former All-Star Francisco Rodriguez. The 2017 numbers for Wilson are terrific, posting a 2.75 ERA, along with a 2.97 Fielding Independent Pitching and a 12.5 K/9 in 38 appearances. Even more impressive has been his ability to limit baserunners this season, with a 0.94 WHIP.
The Tigers have already traded outfielder J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks, and it’s possible that they could move Wilson as well. Combined with an inexpensive salary, and being under team control for next year, Wilson is perhaps someone the Pirates could look at as a potential buyer.