SAN FRANCISCO – The Giants haven’t shut the door on bringing back Brian Wilson, but they’re in advanced negotiations with another reliever who has closing experience.
The club has had significant conversations with right-hander Brandon Lyon, CSN Bay Area has confirmed. Discussions were tabled for a week as Giants officials turned attention to their arbitration cases in advance of Friday’s deadline to exchange figures. But they’ve aggressively pursued the 33-year-old, who has pitched for five teams over parts of 11 seasons and last worked as a primary closer for the Houston Astros in 2010.
If the Giants sign Lyon, it’s expected to be their final move of the offseason – and it also could take up any remaining payroll that otherwise could have been used to sign Wilson to a highly incentivized contract.
Giants vice president Bobby Evans told me it was too simple to say that signing Lyon would rule out any chance of Wilson returning. But “there are only so many spots that can be filled,” Evans said.
Lyon pitched for Arizona from 2005-08, racking up 26 saves in his final season. He has struggled to stay healthy for long stretches over his career, but is coming off one of his best seasons after splitting 2012 between Houston and Toronto. He combined to go 4-2 with a 3.10 ERA in 67 games. His 9.3 strikeouts per nine innings was the best rate of his career, and his 3.15 strikeout-to-walk ratio was the second best.
Evans said the Giants are one of several teams interested in signing Lyon, so “I can’t assure you this is something that will get done or not.”
The Giants continue to have a fluid situation at closer, although manager Bruce Bochy said at the winter meetings that Sergio Romo, who pitched flawlessly on the way to a World Series championship, would get first crack at the job in spring training. The Giants employed a committee last season ever since early April, when Wilson reinjured his right elbow and opted for reconstructive surgery.
Wilson was not happy when the club declined to tender him a contract through the arbitration process – a move that would have guaranteed the three-time All-Star a salary of no lower than $6.8 million.
Club officials preferred to sign him to a lower guarantee with incentives, and although he wanted no part of that, Wilson has remained in contact via text with Giants officials as recently as last week. He has not spoken with many of his Giants teammates, though.
Wilson, who lives in the Los Angeles area, held a workout at UCLA on Saturday attended by Mets GM Sandy Alderson, who reportedly came away unimpressed by the session. Although Wilson has vowed to be ready by opening day, he will not be 12 months removed from surgery until a few weeks after that time -- and repeat procedures usually come with a less predictable recovery timeline.
Wilson’s former teammates expressed hope that he would return.
“I would love to have him back,” right fielder Hunter Pence told me last month. “His intelligence helps the team even when he’s not playing. He was invaluable as a teammate during the playoff run. I know how much he put into the team, even from a mental standpoint.”
Romo, the only man besides Wilson to throw the final pitch to clinch a World Series in San Francisco Giants history, said he would be “sad to see him wear another uni.”
“I haven’t seen anybody be a better example of willpower than Brian Wilson,” Romo told me last month. “For what he’s meant to me personally and taught me throughout my career, the guidance he’s given to me, I appreciate that and respect that a lot, man.
“So I’d love to see him back. Why not? He’s a man with a proven track record when healthy and also a track record that he can beat any injury. So I’d look forward to being his teammate, but it’s out of my control.”