Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Wagner Power Painter Should Help Red Sox

Billy Wagner joining the Red Sox makes sense for all involved parties.

The Mets are off the hook for the remainder of the nearly $3.5 million owed to him this year. Wagner gets to join a team in a pennant race that has genuine World Series aspirations. And the Red Sox get an additional lefty veteran to pair with Hideki Okajima in their bullpen.

Wagner, a six-time All-Star, has 385 career saves, which is sixth all time. The 5’10” flame thrower has been a beast throughout his career, possessing a 2.39 career ERA and 1,070 strikeouts in 820 innings. That is a phenomenal strikeout to innings ratio. And opponents are batting a paltry .189 against him.

Reportedly, the Sox didn’t have to give up much in return—just two minor leaguers to be named later, only one of whom is on the 40-man roster. And neither is expected to be an upper level prospect.

Having another lefty, especially a power lefty, will really help Terry Francona and the Sox down the stretch. The two keys to the deal are these: the offense has to continue to produce, giving the bullpen comfortable leads to hold, and Wagner needs to be healthy.

To that end, Wagner has been clocked in the mid-90s in his two appearances since his return. That’s a reason for optimism, and surely why the Red Sox felt confident in making the move.

But they were equally confident about Eric Gagne two seasons ago, and he had two-thirds of a season behind him to prove that he was both healthy and effective. That didn’t work out too well. And Wagner has made just two appearances—both in the past week—since rehabbing and recovering from Tommy John (elbow ligament) surgery last September.

Wagner wants to protect his elbow from re-injury. Yet, over the next six weeks (and hopefully more), he also wants to showcase the health of his elbow and prove that he still has closer stuff.

The Sox also want to protect their invest down the stretch, and won’t use him in back-to-back games. But what about October, when it’s all-or-nothing, do-or-die? Whose interests will the Sox put up front, theirs or Wagner’s? If they’re not planning on re-signing him, Wagner’s health won’t be nearly as big a concern to them as to him.

How fully his elbow has healed in the intervening 11 months is yet to be determined, but his two appearances so far—though a very small sample—are promising. In those two appearances, Wagner pitched two innings, giving up no hits, no runs, and one walk, while striking out four.

And Wagner has a lot riding on this himself. He asked the Red Sox to promise not to pick up his option for next season so that he can try to secure a longer, more lucrative pact elsewhere. Considering that Wagner is 38, it will likely be the last long term deal he ever signs, and he wants to cash in big one last time.

Initially, Wagner also wanted the Sox to promise not to offer him arbitration next year, making him more desirable to other clubs. But the Mets were under no such obligation to make such an offer and would surely have done so in an effort to get two compensatory draft picks when he signs elsewhere.

It’s important to note that there is no guarantee that Wagner will be classified as a Type A free agent. Wagner’s lengthy absence and significant injury could affect that. If he doesn’t pitch well for the Sox down the stretch, he would almost certainly lose that status.

The Sox were expecting Eric Gagne to be a Type A free agent after the 2007 season, but he was eventually listed as a Type B, giving the Sox just one compensatory draft pick when he signed with the Brewers.

The point is, there are no guarantees regarding future compensation. The Sox can only hope to get two players if Wagner signs elsewhere, and that they are better than the two minor leaguers they parted with to acquire the former All-Star.

In the meantime, Wagner will get to know his teammates and try to blend in with the reportedly excellent clubhouse chemistry in Boston. His introduction to Jonathan Papelbon should be interesting.

Papelbon now says his remarks questioning Wagner's readiness to pitch were "taken out of content."

Verbiage aside, how could his remarks possibly have been taken out of context? He was specifically talking about Billy Wagner potentially joining the Red Sox, and his entire quote was attributed.

Papelbon has never been accused of being a genius.

Athletes always use that same lame excuse; "My words were taken out of context," as if that somehow negates what they previously said.

In Papelbon's case, they were taken out of content. That's another matter entirely.

For the Wagner acquisition to pay off, he has to prove that he is fully recovered. The Sox offense, defense, and starting pitching will all have to do their parts as well. Time will tell.

The next six weeks will be a proving ground for both Billy Wagner and the Red Sox—and hopefully a mutually beneficial time as well.

Copyright © 2009 Sean M. Kennedy. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without the author’s consent.

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