Billy Wagner Could Help Boston Red Sox If It Weren't for the Demands

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Billy Wagner Could Help Boston Red Sox If It Weren't for the Demands
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

As I sat back and watched the slugfest that was the Yankees-Red Sox series this past weekend, I wondered how Billy Wagner might fit into the Boston bullpen.

The bullpen that saw Michael Bowden–who was called up prior to Friday's game only to be shuttled back to the minor league bus stops later that night–contribute to the hailstorm of Yankee runs in Friday’s 20-11 loss by allowing seven earned runs and three walks in two innings of relief.

The bullpen that is using more of Takashi Saito, Manny Delcarmen, and Ramon Ramirez than Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon (or so it seems). And, oddly enough, the bullpen that I still think is pretty formidable.

The Red Sox placed a waiver claim on the recently injured New York Mets hurler last Friday, and the Mets have until Tuesday to trade Wagner to the Red Sox, pull him back off waivers, or send him to Boston for nothing in return (except payroll relief). Wagner is coming back from Tommy John surgery on his left elbow, a surgery that was supposed to keep him out for the entire 2009 season.

But after a quick recovery, Wagner made his season debut last Thursday in New York, striking out two Atlanta Braves in one inning of work while reaching 96 mph with his fastball.

Is Wagner really fully healthy? Is he going to be able to pitch on consecutive days for the remainder of the season given the fact that he beat the return time of a major surgery by almost two months?

We’ll have to wait and see, but I would think that Wagner wouldn’t return early if he didn’t feel he was totally ready.

It makes sense for all three parties involved–Wagner, the Mets, and the Red Sox–to get a deal done and send the 38-year-old southpaw to Boston. But only if it were that easy.

The problem is that Wagner is sixth on the career in all time saves list, has appeared in six All-Star Games, and has earned over $75 million in his career for being one of the most menacing and hard-throwing closers of his time. There is a certain level of pride that comes with that.

Knowing that, it’s not all that surprising that Wagner has made a couple demands to the Red Sox, according to this ESPN.com report. According to the report, Wagner has told that Red sox that in order for him to waive his no-trade clause, he would like his 2010 player option to be declined, effectively making him a free agent and therefore a potential suitor for a club looking for a closer.

After accomplishing so much at the end of the game, Wagner doesn’t want to end his career icing in the ninth inning instead of pitching, which is what would happen with Papelbon in Boston.

“I don’t want to end my career as a set up man,” Wagner said. “I’d like to have that option.”

And that’s all good. I think Wagner has deserved that option based on his body of work, and I believe that would be an attractive option for the Red Sox, too. Boston surely wouldn’t want to pick up Wagner’s $8 million 2010 option for him to be a set up guy, right? Of course not. But the demands don’t end there.

Not only did Wagner ask for the option on his current deal to be declined, but also his agent, Bean Stringfellow, asked the Red Sox to “guarantee” they won’t offer Wagner salary arbitration, according to a FOXSports.com report.

By not offering Wagner arbitration, more teams would be interested in Wagner on the free agent market next winter because they wouldn’t have to give up high draft picks as compensation for signing Wagner.

Compensation picks is certainly an appropriate topic for the next collective bargaining meeting, but under the current agreement, those are the rules. Yes, they unfairly handcuff players and limit their opportunities, but that’s not changing in the next year.

After Stringfellow confirmed that the Red Sox rejected both demands, the only thing to be done is to get creative and find a middle ground. It can’t all be peaches and cream for Wagner. The Red Sox have to have some incentive to get this done, too, or else they seem content to go with what they have into the stretch run of the season.

There’s incentive for all sides involved to get this done. By dealing Wagner, the Mets will cut the remaining $3.5 million owed to Wagner for ’09 off their books in addition to the $1 million next year it would take to buy out Wagner’s option.

For the Red Sox, they get a power lefty who, presumably, is healthy and ready to pitch like his old dominant self. The Sox know exactly what they have in Wagner come September and possibly October, but can they say the same thing about Daniel Bard? I don’t think so.

Bard is a great young pitcher, but he just hasn’t been around long enough. Not to mention, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a bullpen that would turn down a power lefty.

And for Wagner, he gets an opportunity to go pitch for a contending team, one that is capable of winning a World Series if they put it together. His first option wouldn’t be to set up in Boston, but that’s sure a heck of a lot better than setting up for Francisco Rodriguez and the fourth-place Mets.

And if all goes well, the Red Sox would probably grant him his wish by declining his option, and he’d be on his way to one more season or two as the guy that jogs out to a cool late-night entrance song.

But there needs to be something a little more enticing for the Red Sox. They have no obligations to Wagner, and why would they not offer him arbitration? In the end, they are the ones that would be taking on $3.5 million for a guy who has only pitched once this season.

If they are going to be the Mets’ emergency pocket book, then they will want draft picks to back up the risk. After all, it’s a business they are running, not a twenty-five cent lemonade stand on the way to a farewell tour somewhere else.

Maybe Wagner and the Red Sox can reach some sort of agreement that would void the $1 million buyout on Wagner’s deal in exchange for the Red Sox not offering arbitration? That would be a little sweeter, if you’re Boston.

Then again, the compensation picks have more value than that $1 million. But what about $1 million and another World Series ring, which is what Wagner could possibly help bring to Boston if he’s healthy and firing bullets deep into October? Would that be better than the picks? I’d say so.

See, there’s a plethora of options here, some of which could satisfy everybody. Wagner and the Red Sox simply need to stop talking demands and start talking deals. If they wait too long, they’ll never realize what they may have missed.

 

You can reach Teddy Mitrosilis at tm4000@yahoo.com.

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