November 18, 2013 at 1:00 am

Kurt Mensching

Brian Wilson might be better for Tigers than Joe Nathan

Brian Wilson has 171 career saves in 196 opportunities. (Jeff Gross / Getty Images)

The Tigers have a good shot at making another deep playoff run. The Tigers need relief help. Ergo, the Tigers are named in connection to pretty much any quality reliever on the free-agent market.

Not every connection is going to make as much sense as a cursory glance might make it appear.

The case in point: Joe Nathan and Brian Wilson are two of the more recent players connected by some rumor or another, but Wilson would seem to make a lot more sense to the Tigers than Nathan.

In his short Dodgers’ stint, Wilson re-established value that had been lost when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery in the middle of 2012. SB Nation’s Dodgers writer, Eric Stephen of True Blue LA, noted Wilson stranded 10 of 11 inherited runners and made scoreless appearances in 17 of 18 games. WIlson averaged 92-93 mph on his fastball, down a few miles per hour from his peak, but used his cutter to keep batters off track.

“In short, Wilson was everything the Dodgers could have asked for,” Stephen wrote.

Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors projects his contract to be a single-year deal worth $8.5 million but notes a deal similar to Nathan’s former one -- two years and $14.75 million -- may be possible.

Meanwhile in Texas, Nathan, too, was everything the Rangers could have asked for. He finished 123 games during the 2012-13 seasons and saved 80 of them while blowing six, good for a 93-percent save percentage. With a 1.39 ERA and 0.897 walks plus hits per innings pitched in 2013, Nathan put up some of the best figures of his career.

If Wilson established that he’s worth a risk of several million dollars, Nathan announced clearly he think he’s worth more.

It’s no wonder he voided the $9 million option the Rangers had for the 2014 season.

A 38-year-old or not, Nathan knew he earned one last big payday, so there was no reason to delay it by a year.

Dierkes projects two years and $26 million for Nathan. And that’s quite a lot of money to pay a guy just to pitch in the ninth inning.

Either player could help the Tigers in their quest to finally win that elusive World Series ring.

Of course, you could make a pretty good argument the Tigers’ issue this past season wasn’t really the closer.

Joaquin Benoit, also a free agent though one who’ll likely command a contract closer to what Wilson is expected to receive, had a good year of his own: 2.01 ERA, almost 10 strikeouts per nine innings and saving 92 percent of his opportunities.

Yes, he did give up the grand slam to David Ortiz in Game 2 of the ALCS, but the only run on his line was the one Big Papi scored. That’s because the other three baserunners were each allowed by three separate Tigers’ relief pitchers.

Not only does Detroit need a closer, it also needs a setup man, a left-hander (or two) and probably another middle reliever.

That brings us to what may be the real issue here: By concentrating on getting the big-name closer that comes at a big cost, might the Tigers be cutting into their budget elsewhere, possibly with little extra value to show for it?

The big name a year ago, Rafael Soriano, signed at $14 million per year for two years and had a lower save percentage (88 percent) than Benoit and higher ERA (3.11). Signing the big name may have sounded good then, but it really wouldn’t have made a big difference.

The Tigers need a lot of bullpen help right now, that’s the undeniable truth. Spending Joe Nathan dollars doesn’t make sense when there are so many holes remaining if they don’t have the money left to shore up the rest of the pen, too.

Trying to keep Benoit as well as sign Wilson, rather than spending so much on Nathan, might be the best bet of all.

Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog ( He can be reached at

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