11:44am: Rosenthal tweets that Tampa Bay is also discussing Pirates lefty Tony Watson. The 32-year-old Watson is earning a bit more than twice Wilson’s salary ($5.6MM) and is a free agent at season’s end. He’s also having a down year, with a diminished strikeout rate (6.3 K/9) and ground-ball rate (41.6 percent) to go along with an increased home-run rate (1.51 HR/9). Watson has a 3.67 ERA through 41 2/3 innings overall, though FIP, xFIP and SIERA all peg him for a mark more in the mid- to upper-4.00 range. Of course, given all of those factors, the cost of acquiring Watson, in terms of prospects, would be considerably lesser than the cost of acquiring Wilson.
More generally speaking, MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand tweets that the Rays have shown interest in virtually every reliever that has a chance of being made available, although certainly it seems that Wilson is higher up on their list than many, given the wording of Topkin’s initial report.
11:19am: Joel Sherman of the New York Post tweets that while the Rays do indeed have interest in Wilson, the prospect price is currently a bit high for them. Tampa Bay is expressing interest in a number of relievers, though, he adds. MLB.com’s Jason Beck tweets that the two sides are not yet close to a deal.
11:10am: The Rays have legitimate interest in Tigers lefty Justin Wilson, and talks between the two sides have gained some traction, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (via Twitter). The Rays are known to be on the hunt for a left-handed upgrade in their bullpen, which is further underscored by a new report from Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports and MLB Network revealing that Tampa Bay was in on Sean Doolittle before he headed to the Nationals (Twitter link).
Wilson’s excellent production, modest salary ($2.7MM in 2017) and remaining club control (through the 2018 season via arbitration) all figure to appeal to the Tampa Bay front office. Set to turn 30 next month, Wilson opened the season as Detroit’s primary setup reliever, but a combination of his brilliant performance and a nightmarish season for closer Francisco Rodriguez thrust the southpaw into the ninth inning spotlight.
Wilson has picked up 10 saves since taking the closer reins from K-Rod, and more importantly has dominated opponents all season long, regardless of role. Through 35 1/3 innings, Wilson has averaged 12.7 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 to complement a 35.1 percent ground-ball rate. He’s posted a career-best 96.1 mph average fastball and a career-high 14.7 percent swinging-strike rate on the season as well. The end result is a 2.29 ERA on the season, with ERA alternatives like FIP (2.89), xFIP (3.29) and SIERA (2.67) all largely supporting his excellent season.