Commentary

C.J. Wilson holds all the cards

Rangers should take a similar approach with top starter that they used with Cliff Lee

Updated: September 1, 2011, 9:50 AM ET
By Jean-Jacques Taylor | ESPNDallas.com

ARLINGTON, Texas -- C.J. Wilson is the best starting pitcher on the Rangers' staff.

No one quibbles with that, considering Wilson is the only member of the rotation scheduled to pitch every fifth day from now through the end of the season.

He's pitched well against the best teams this season, aside from a poor performance against Boston last week, in which he allowed a career-high four homers.

Wilson is brash. And competitive. And arrogant, which is actually a good thing for a professional athlete.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Wilson
Otto Greule Jr/Getty ImagesC.J. Wilson likely will be the best free-agent pitcher on the market after the season.

Hey, he's truly surprised when he gives up a hit. Wilson believes he's that good.

Wilson, however, is not an ace, and the Rangers shouldn't pay him like CC Sabathia or Cliff Lee or Jered Weaver, if he had hit the open market.

Wilson is in the next group of pitchers, with the likes of Boston's Josh Beckett and the Angels' Dan Haren.

My definition of an ace? You tell me he's starting Game 7 of the World Series, and the champagne gets put on ice before the game.

The Rangers should treat Wilson the way they treated Lee, which means wine and dine him and offer him a legitimate five-year deal. Perhaps, a five-year deal worth $18.5 million to $19.5 million per year.

That's between $92.5 million and $97.5 million.

If the Rangers can get that deal done as soon as the season ends, do it.

Quickly.

If Wilson wants a nickel more, let him become a free agent. It's business; it's not personal.

Teams find trouble when they start paying No. 3 starters like No. 2 starters or No. 2 starters like No. 1 starters. Or in this case, an excellent starter like an ace.

It's a poor business model.

Even if the Rangers get lucky and the deal works out, overpaying Wilson would remain a poor decision. Organizations can't operate in the realm of luck and emotions. They must be cold and calculating.

This isn't a criticism of Wilson, who's scheduled to start against Tampa Bay on Thursday.

He deserves big money. He's earned it with consecutive quality seasons as a starter that have resulted in a 28-14 record and a 3.32 ERA. When the season ends, he should have back-to-back seasons with more than 200 innings.

He turns 31 in November, so this might be his last contract. He owes it to himself to maximize this opportunity.

That said, there's nothing he can't buy with a $90 million deal that he can get with a $110 million deal. Or a $120 million deal. And if Wilson gets paired on a team that has an ace -- the way the Rangers matched him with Lee -- then Wilson will be worth that much cash.

Everything favors Wilson when it comes to a new deal.

He's going to be the best available pitcher on the market unless Sabathia opts out of his deal with New York. Wilson throws multiple pitches for strikes, and he's thrown only 670 innings in his seven seasons with the Rangers, a low number for a player his age.

None of us is going to be surprised when the Red Sox or the Yankees or the Angels or some other club on either coast offers him a deal worth more than $20 million a year.

Nothing wrong with that as long as Bob Simpson and Ray Davis, the Rangers' money men, aren't writing the checks.

Sure, his numbers at Rangers Ballpark are outstanding. The heat doesn't bother him, and neither does the vaunted jet stream. He's 17-5 with a 3.86 ERA at home in the past two seasons.

Wilson represents everything Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels want in a homegrown pitcher.

But the Rangers have stacked their farm system, so they don't have to overpay players.

When Lee left for Philadelphia, Chicken Little ran around Dallas-Fort Worth for weeks screaming the sky was falling.

Guess what? The Rangers survived.

Wilson moved to the front of the rotation, and teamed with Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando and Derek Holland to form one of the American League's better rotations.

If Wilson chooses to leave, the Rangers will still win at least 90 games and contend for the AL West title in 2012.

Trust me, Daniels and Ryan have surely discussed how to replace Wilson, and mapped out Plans A, B and C.

Hopefully, they won't need them.

Jean-Jacques Taylor is a columnist for ESPNDallas.com.

Jean-Jacques Taylor joined ESPNDallas.com in August 2011. A native of Dallas, Taylor spent the past 20 years writing for The Dallas Morning News, where he covered high schools sports, the Texas Rangers and spent 11 seasons covering the Dallas Cowboys before becoming a general columnist in 2006.

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