The Detroit Tigers kept Justin Wilson in the loop enough that he brought two suitcases for the team’s Sunday night flight to New York, where he had dinner with his representatives from ACES and learned that trade talks with the Cubs were heating up.
Wilson flew back to Detroit on Monday morning, checked in with his family and picked up his car to drive to Chicago, where he will loom as another late-game weapon out of Joe Maddon’s bullpen and audition to be next year’s closer.
“Obviously, he’s done it before,” Maddon said. “We’ll probably cross that bridge when we get to it. Yes, one eye’s on the present, and one eye’s been on the future. What a great way to do business. To be able to fulfill needs with that kind of a quality player – with those contract benefits – that’s what our guys do.”
This is how Theo Epstein’s front office operates: The Cubs once used a Rule 5 pick to coach up and develop a 30-save closer during the rebuilding years. Hector Rondon got bumped out of the ninth inning last summer when Epstein saw Aroldis Chapman as the missing piece to the World Series puzzle and sacrificed elite prospect Gleyber Torres in a blockbuster deal with the New York Yankees.
The Cubs viewed Chapman only as a rental, rated Jorge Soler as a diminishing asset and flipped the inconsistent outfielder to the Kansas City Royals at the winter meetings for one full season of Wade Davis.
Davis is now positioned to hit the free-agent market after a record-setting winter for closers – the Yankees gave Chapman five years and $86 million guaranteed – and an All-Star season where so far he’s been healthy, perfect in save situations (22-for-22) and a good influence on the rest of the bullpen.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate to get into that now,” Epstein said. “We hope every good player we have now is back. But that’s a discussion for another day.”
For now, Wilson is another left-handed option who allows Maddon to unleash Carl Edwards Jr. earlier in the game, pick his spots with Pedro Strop and rest Davis when necessary. Wilson is making $2.7 million this season and has one more year in the arbitration system before he can become a free agent. Saving 13 games for the Tigers – while putting up a 2.68 ERA and 55 strikeouts in 40.1 innings – enhanced Wilson’s marketability.
“Obviously, he’s shown this year especially that he has the ability to do that,” Epstein said. “It’s nice to have a number of options to close games now on the days that Wade is down, hopefully from having saved three in a row.”
All that matters to Wilson now is going from a team that was nine games under .500 to the defending World Series champs.
“I just want to pitch – it doesn’t really matter when to me,” Wilson said. “I don’t anticipate anything. I pitch when my name’s called.”