12/07/11 7:53 PM EST
With teams after him, Wilson in driver's seat
By Richard Justice / MLB.com
He's about to become one of the highest-paid pitchers in history as he wrestles with a range of options, all of them good.
First, though, let's push the pause button on his free agency to consider the road he has traveled.
Two years ago, he had much more modest goals. Back then -- and we're talking a mere 24 months -- he simply wanted someone to believe in him.
At that time, C.J. was one of the few people who did. That's the thing people who know him best say again and again. That is, he's very smart and very self-confident. He's creative in his approach, relentless in his work habits.
To say Wilson's journey began with him talking his way into the Texas Rangers' rotation would not be exactly accurate. Yes, he did convince the team to let him attempt to make the transition from reliever to starter. He did the rest.
"Look, if I have a good year, we're going to go to the playoffs," he remembers telling Rangers general manager Jon Daniels.
Whether the Rangers thought he could do it is beside the point. There appears to have been some skepticism within the organization, but nothing was being risked.
Wilson had been a solid reliever, but the Rangers had other bullpen options. If C.J. could pitch, say, 200 innings, instead of 80, everyone would benefit. If things didn't work out, he could go back to closing games.
Maybe only C.J. could have seen how this would play out. All he has done in two seasons since is win 31 games, pitch 427 1/3 innings and help the Rangers win back-to-back American League pennants.
"When things go according to plan, everybody looks smart," he said. "So, I guess, things went according to plan."
He has struggled at times in the playoffs, but as the Angels, Marlins and others evaluate him, they'll surely consider his entire career. He has been a starter for just two full seasons, and if he has appeared to be gassed in the playoffs, that could be part of the process of pitching in the sweltering Texas heat and adjusting to a different kind of workload.
He pitched 251 1/3 innings, including the postseason, this season, and talent evaluators say that when his breaking ball began to flatten out, it has an indication that all those innings had taken a toll.
"To dominate in September and then stink in October is not a very good feeling," he recently told a Dallas radio station. "I think it's just part of the development process for me as a starting pitcher."
He was the No. 1 guy on one of baseball's best teams, and isn't that the most important thing? In the final seven weeks of this season, he took the mound five times after a loss and won all five.
He also won an Aug. 17 game against the Angels that stretched the Texas lead in the American League West to seven games. There are a dozen different ways to define a No. 1 starter, but shouldering big innings and stopping losing streaks probably are at the top of the list.
To Angels manager Mike Scioscia, there's some advantage to his having started games for just two seasons. That is, he has pitched just 708 innings and made 73 career starts over seven big league seasons.
"Maybe a little less wear and tear on his arm pitching as a starter than some other guys," Scioscia said. "I think the prospects [are] of him being able to continue to adapt and be effective even when there's maybe a little velocity."
With the Angels and Rangers both bidding for him, Wilson's 2010 totals -- 223 1/3 innings and 15 victories -- could change the balance of power in the American League West. And the Marlins are believed to be in on Wilson even after agreeing to a four-year, $58 million deal with Mark Buehrle.
The Angels were 59-42 in games started by Jered Weaver, Dan Haren and Ervin Santana, but 27-34 with anyone else. To add Wilson to that rotation could give them one of baseball's best and deepest rotations.
"It sounds like you're getting greedy," Scoscia said. "But you need five guys going out there during the season to give you a chance to win, and right now, we might have an incredible playoff rotation, but you need a full rotation to give you that opportunity to get into the playoffs."
For Wilson, it's all good. His choices are to stay with the two-time AL champions and work toward a three-peat. Or to return to his native Southern California. Or to be part of the Marlins' new era.
His ride began with a fundamental belief in himself, and maybe that's the sweetest part of this story. Nice going, C.J.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.