Justin Wilson, one of the last major free agent signings by Mets general manager Brodie Van Wagenen this offseason, inked a two-year, $10 million contract on January 25. A fifth-round selection by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2008 draft from Cal State Fresno, Wilson made his major league debut in 2012 and was a key part of the Pirates’ bullpen during their mid-2010s playoff runs.
After the 2014 season, Wilson was traded to the Yankees in exchange for catcher Francisco Cervelli. After one solid year in pinstripes, Wilson was dealt again the following year to Detroit for reliever Chad Greene and starter Luis Cessa. Wilson took over the closer role after the Tigers parted ways with Francisco Rodriguez in the middle of the 2017 season and thrived in the role, converting 13 out of 15 saves with a 2.68 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and an excellent 3.4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. With the Tigers in rebuild mode, Wilson was shipped off to the Cubs at the trade deadline that season alongside catcher Alex Avila in exchange for a top-100 level prospect in third baseman Jeimer Candelario and shortstop Isaac Paredes.
Wilson saw a dip in effectiveness and struggled with command issues during his time in Chicago, throwing more balls than strikes and averaging 9.7 BB/9 and a 2.09 WHIP in the latter half of 2017. He had a better season in 2018, stranding 34 of 37 inherited runners to qualify for the best rate in the National League. Wilson thrived in high-leverage situations, but walks still plagued his overall numbers, with 33 bases-on-balls in 54 2/3 innings and a 1.47 WHIP, the highest WHIP of his career in a full season.
Despite his recent struggles with the Cubs, Wilson may be on the right track towards regaining his pitch command this spring with the Mets. So far in five innings of work, Wilson has struck out six batters while walking none. Although he has shown improved command, Wilson has been hit hard this spring, giving up ten hits total, including two home runs, and six earned runs in limited Grapefruit League action. Spring training stats are not always a reliable indicator of where a pitcher stands heading into the regular season, and Wilson is all but guaranteed a spot on the 25-man roster, but it could influence how the Mets bullpen will be structured.
At first glance, it looks like Wilson would fill the role left vacant by Jerry Blevins as a lefty specialist. On the contrary, Wilson has been better at sitting down righties than lefties. Looking at his career splits, Wilson has held right-handed batters to a .211 AVG and .323 SLG, and against left-handed batters his numbers rise to a .243 AVG and .345 SLG. The Mets could consider carrying an additional left-hander in the pen to help retire the likes of Bryce Harper and Freddie Freeman with current in-house options that include Daniel Zamora and non-roster invitees Luis Avilan and Hector Santiago.
Armed with an upper-90s fastball, a hard slider, and a cutter, Wilson will look to provide the Mets with another solid, high-octane option at the back end of the bullpen alongside Jeurys Familia and Edwin Diaz. The Mets could use Wilson as the primary seventh inning option, and if he is able to recapture some of his pre-second half 2017 magic, they could have a shutdown bullpen that would fit right alongside a formidable starting rotation in 2019.