Globe iconLogin iconRecap iconSearch iconTickets icon
news

Tigers News

Wilson rejoins Tigers -- with unusual goal

@beckjason
January 5, 2020

Alex Wilson filled pretty much every role on the pitching staff in his first stint as a Tiger, from spot starts to save opportunities. He returns to the organization on a Minor League contract with the long-term goal of becoming a bullpen psychologist. No, really. It might not be now,

Alex Wilson filled pretty much every role on the pitching staff in his first stint as a Tiger, from spot starts to save opportunities. He returns to the organization on a Minor League contract with the long-term goal of becoming a bullpen psychologist.

No, really. It might not be now, not while he’s still pitching. But as he takes on the dual role of veteran reliever and first-year grad student, he’s hoping his second chance with the Tigers helps him along towards his second career.

“I feel like I have a lot more to give on and off the field,” Wilson told MLB.com in a phone interview Saturday. “If this happens to be the last year that I play, I would rather have it there helping guys that I know, like [the Tigers' No. 14 prospect] Beau Burrows and [No. 2 prospect] Matt Manning.

“There's nothing in this game that I haven't done now. I've been hurt. I’ve broken my leg. I've been released. I've been traded. I've opted out. If I can ease a situation for a player rather than having them stress about it, I think that's a huge advantage.”

Hot Stove Tracker

Wilson’s deal includes a non-roster invite to Spring Training, where he stands a good chance of recapturing the bullpen role he filled in Detroit from 2014-18. At age 33, he would be the oldest member of a very young Tigers bullpen, a group that badly missed Wilson’s presence last year after the Tigers non-tendered him.

While the Tigers struggled to a 114-loss season, Wilson bounced between Milwaukee and Triple-A San Antonio, posting a 9.53 ERA in 13 April games for the Brewers before they released him in August. Half of his 12 runs allowed came in one disastrous outing. He talked with the Tigers about a late-season return, but signed with the Cubs instead for a chance at postseason play.

Wilson said he kept in contact with Tigers assistant general manager David Chadd all offseason about a potential reunion. Meanwhile, he went back to school and finished his degree in sports management with a minor in psychology, knowing he might have to think about his post-playing career.

“I went back and finally graduated from college,” Wilson said. “I didn't know which way it was going to go, so I went back to school and applied to grad school, wanting to play and do grad school at the same time. That way, whenever my playing days are done, I’m ready for it.”

Wilson is taking online classes towards a master’s degree in performance psychology. He has reached out to performance coaches about the business, which has grown rapidly in baseball as Major League clubs try to find ways to get the most out of their talent.

While he’s still pitching, though, he wants to focus his leadership on the field.

“My expectation, personally, is to make the team,” he said. “And if I make the team, I'm not going to be the oldest, but I'll be close to it. A lot of it's going to be helping the young guys learn the ropes as a big leaguer. You need an older guy or two to show them the right way to do things and point them in the right direction. I have a good relationship with a handful of younger guys there already.

“It doesn't matter if you're rebuilding or rebooting. You have to have veteran leadership. I would like to be that guy.”

The Tigers were looking to add a veteran presence in the bullpen, but had limited payroll and roster space after signing C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop to one-year, $6.1 million Major League contracts a couple weeks ago. Add in a highly competitive free-agent relief market, and even relievers looking for a bounce-back deal were looking elsewhere.

Wilson kept in touch, sending videos of him throwing off a mound at home in Texas. When Chadd reached out, Wilson pounced.

“They made me an offer and I accepted it pretty much immediately,” he said. “I wanted to come back and be a part of everything coming together.”

To that end, the deal does not include any opt-out clauses.

If Wilson makes the Opening Day roster, he could fill the versatile role Drew VerHagen had last year. Or he could provide a veteran setup presence behind closer Joe Jiménez, allowing Buck Farmer to stay in his traditional role. Just as important, Wilson could help rookies Bryan Garcia and John Schreiber along as they try to find their places on the staff.

Jason Beck has covered the Tigers for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog and follow him on Twitter @beckjason.