Preston Wilson: Obviously, I'm Not a Doctor

The newest Astro

Some like Houston's new outfield signee, Preston Wilson, more than the Cardinals' recent addition, Juan Encarnacion. Brian Walton is not among them.

In his highly-recommended blog entitled Obviously, You're Not a Golfer, my friend Matthew Leach, Cardinals beat writer for MLB.com, joins the growing ranks of the Juan Encarnacion-doubters. In this instance, Leach expresses longing in his heart over another.

Leach wistfully eyes Houston's signing of outfielder Preston Wilson and wishes the Cardinals had strode up to that altar instead of getting hitched with Encarnacion. Though he acknowledges that Wilson built his best year at Coors Field, Leach appropriately excludes those numbers and still sees a decent power hitter for the price.

 

On the surface, during a winter with limited free-agent outfield talent available, it seemed odd that Wilson was still looking for a job after such luminaries as Eric Byrnes and Jeromy Burnitz (twice!) had already found new homes.

 

In all fairness, Leach does note that Wilson is two years older than Encarnacion. But Leach made a major omission. His analysis, while solid from a statistical perspective, completely misses any mention of the biggest single issue with Wilson - his extensive medical problems.

 

Fortunately, major league teams are likely more diligent. I am sure any organization who did consider the player dug deeply into Wilson's history, especially with his oft-injured left knee. I suspect up to 29 teams may not have liked what they saw. In fact, even the Colorado Rockies' own 2005 press guide refers multiple times to Wilson's "chronic" knee problems.

 

Still, Leach seems to be scratching his head over Wilson having to accept a weird one-year/four-year deal for $4.5 million in 2006 that could escalate to $28 million through 2009. Like there is any chance the Astros will pick up those next three years at that price…

 

Let's face it, Wilson is damaged goods. Otherwise, how could anyone explain his ceiling-to-floor drop in valuation? Back in 2001, Wilson was on top of the world, signing what at that time was the largest contract ever given to a major league player who was not yet arbitration-eligible – a whopping five years for $32 million.

 

Since coming up originally with the Mets, Wilson has been traded three times, being very available at last season's trade deadline. By eating most of his remaining salary, the Rockies did finally move Wilson to the lowly Washington Nationals, who were so impressed they cut him loose after the season.

 

Apparently to secure a contract for 2006, Wilson had to drop from making $12 million in 2005 to about one-third of that in 2006. Is that a bargain or a reflection of faded glory?

 

Don't get me wrong. Wilson was a very durable player and a valuable centerfielder earlier in his career, but that was in the past. His more recent history clearly paints a different picture:

 

12/05 - The Newark Star-Ledger reports the New York Yankees have no interest in free-agent outfielder Preston Wilson due to concerns about his health. (Just an example of the typical offseason news about Wilson.)

 

06/05 – Wilson removed his knee brace when playing in the field.

 

05/05 – Wilson was again sidelined with his fourth illness in a month.

 

09/04 – Wilson undergoes microfracture surgery on his left knee to try to enhance cartilage growth. It is his second surgery on the knee that season, ending his 2004 campaign at 58 games played.

 

04/04 – Wilson had three torn cartilage particles removed from his left knee and his meniscus shaved. He was out until June.

 

Frankly, I would have expected to see Wilson move to the American League for 2006 and beyond. Still, for Houston, this deal may make some sense. Despite having what seemed to be a full starting line-up, there may be ample at-bats for Wilson.

 

The ‘Stros feature the aged and infirm Jeff Bagwell at first base and the equally-aged, but less infirm Craig Biggio at second base. Lance Berkman can slide from outfield to first while Chris Burke can cover at second, potentially opening up room for Wilson to get playing time.

 

So, let's allow the Houstonians to enjoy their big celebration over signing Wilson. After all, it is the highlight so far for the reigning National League champions during an offseason of inaction. The biggest news previously was that their best player, a certain 43-year-old pitcher, has returned to his personal career limboland with almost nothing else happening in Houston other than everyone getting a year older.

 

But, the Cardinals are in a different situation. I was originally ambivalent about Encarnacion, but choosing between these two, I'll take the guy with some potential upside. At least Encarnacion has the history to be able to play every day that Wilson now seems to have left in his rearview mirror. If the Cards had signed Wilson instead, in a far-from-ideal scenario, I would have predicted So Taguchi for another 400 at-bat season in 2006.

 

Of course, the stats crowd doesn't always consider defense. But how can you not look at Busch III with its deeper power alleys and not wonder how the formerly-speedy, but now bad-kneed Wilson would fare with the glove? Jim Edmonds can't cover extra ground for everyone out there.

 

In fact, if the Cardinals wanted to sacrifice defense and roll the injury dice again, why didn't they just keep Reggie Sanders around? I am going to monitor Wilson's 2006 season in comparison to Sanders', and I wouldn't be surprised to see each struggle to answer the bell for 120 games.

 

Bottom line, Matthew, I have to disagree with you on this one. Wilson at $4.5 million over Encarnacion for $3.5 million as the Cardinals' starting right fielder? Maybe in 2001; but in 2006, I'm just not seeing it. How about the potential of Wilson at $7.5 million more for 2007 versus Encarnacion at $5 million, then? Nope. That doesn't cut it for me, either.

 

Obviously, I'm not a doctor, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night!

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

 

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