Wilson gets extension from Tigers
Backup catcher inks two-year deal worth $1.9 million
DETROIT -- Considering the open market, Tigers backup catcher Vance Wilson could've looked for a platoon job or even a more regular starting role as a free agent this season. But in his mind, he probably couldn't find the situation he has here.
So when the club came to him and gauged his interest in re-signing, Wilson was willing to listen. About a week later, he had a deal. The Tigers formalized it Thursday afternoon, inking him to a two-year contract worth $1.9 million.
"This group of guys, I wish I could play my whole career with them," he said Thursday afternoon.
That's a pretty good statement for someone whose playing time depends on a future Hall of Famer in front of him, who wants to play every day and keeps himself in the shape to do it. But as Wilson put it, "At this point in my career, there's a lot more important things than playing time."
Wilson will make $950,000 in both 2007 and 2008, with potential bonuses each year based on plate appearances.
For Detroit, not long ago a franchise that was reluctant to negotiate contracts during the season, it marked the third straight summer of signing a veteran player acquired via trade to keep him around. This time, the Tigers were the catalysts to get something done.
A contract extension was a topic earlier in the season but was placed on the back burner. With Wilson approaching free agency and Twins backup Mike Redmond having just signed his own two-year deal to stay in Minnesota, the team brought it back up.
"We saw him very similar to Redmond in terms of what he offers and what he means to our club," said team vice president and legal counsel John Westhoff, who negotiated the contract with agent Craig Landis.
After sporadic playing time and a disappointing season last year coming off his trade from the Mets for infield prospect Anderson Hernandez, the 32-year-old Wilson has found his comfort zone this season. He entered Thursday batting .273 with four home runs and 15 RBIs in 44 games this year, including 35 starts behind the plate, six shy of his total for all of last season.
With starter Ivan Rodriguez used as an occasional backup first baseman this summer and an emergency second baseman Tuesday when Placido Polanco was injured, Wilson's performance has become all the more important. All the while, he has worked well with Detroit's pitching staff, especially its young arms.
"We didn't keep Vance Wilson as a backup catcher because I like him," manager Jim Leyland said. "We kept him because we think he's an excellent player. He seems like everything you want in a guy that doesn't get to play as much as you'd like to. He's a team player. He's a good player. He's gotten big hits for us. He can throw. He's an excellent catcher. I mean, what do you want? What's not to like?"
In turn, Wilson has found a comfort zone in Detroit. Hearing Leyland put in a good word for him meant plenty.
"It's an honor for a team to come to you," Wilson said. "Obviously, an owner like Mr. Ilitch and Westhoff and [Dave] Dombrowski on that end, and Leyland went to bat for me and wants me to be part of the team. You always are thankful to have that financial security, but in the role that I'm in and where I was in New York, and never having that feel like you were wanted, to have someone to go bat for you means way more than the money."
As for a chance at more playing time, he said, that opportunity's all relative.
"One, I've got a little girl that's in first grade," Wilson said. "I've got a straight flight to Detroit. I've got straight flights to all our division teams. I've got a straight flight to Orlando, close to Spring Training. If you go on the open market, say Florida or Toronto [court you], it makes it really tough on your family.
"You've got to look at it and say, even though I think I can play for a team and start, teams aren't going to come to you and blow you away. You don't know how it's going to work out. And at this point in my career, to be able to be part of a winning feel, that's really important."
Jason Beck is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.