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Red Sox Relievers Puzzled About Wagner Claim

08.22.09 at 5:34 pm ET
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The middle of August is far different than the days leading up to the July 31 deadline for trades not requiring waivers. At the end of last month, Red Sox players could not help but hear about potential deals that their club was contemplating. Three weeks later, that is not the case.

And so, prior to Saturday’s game, a few members of the bullpen expressed surprise to learn that the Red Sox had claimed Mets reliever Billy Wagner on waivers.

In itself, of course, the waiver claim doesn’t necessarily mean anything. By Tuesday at 1 p.m., the Mets can decide whether to grant the claim and relinquish Wagner to the Sox, whether they might work out a trade for Wagner with the Sox, or whether they will pull the left-hander back off of waivers and keep him. Even so, Sox relievers seemed a bit confused by the possibility that Wagner might join them.

“What has he done?” wondered Jonathan Papelbon. “Has he pitched this year?”

Indeed, on Thursday, Wagner made his first appearance since undergoing Tommy John surgery last September. The former Mets closer looked great, topping out at 96 mph while striking out two of the three batters he faced in a perfect inning.

Wagner’s resume, of course, is that of one of the best closers ever. He has 385 career saves, a 2.40 ERA, and has struck out 11.7 batters per nine innings in his career. Even so, what he might be able to deliver going forward remains something of an open question given the fact that he is returning from a surgery that often requires some months before consistency returns.

“Is he ready to pitch or is he not? You know what I mean?” asked Papelbon. “I think our bullpen is good where we’€™re at right now. Don’€™t get me wrong. But I guess you could always make it better. It’€™s kind of like the Gagne thing, I guess.”

Ah, the Gagne thing. In 2007, the Sox had the best bullpen ERA in the majors thanks to the dominant work of Jonathan Papelbon, Hideki Okajima and Manny Delcarmen (among others). But the Sox worried about the toll of the season on Okajima especially (the Japanese lefty, in his rookie year, had to be shut down for a stretch due to fatigue), and so the Sox traded for Eric Gagne at the July 31 deadline.

At the time, in his return from Tommy John surgery in 2005, he was 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA and 16 saves. Gagne came with tremendous credentials, a former Cy Young winner who converted a record 84 straight save opportunities earlier in his career with Los Angeles. Yet stripped of the title of Rangers closer and made a set-up man for Papelbon in Boston, he fell on his face. Gagne had a 6.75 ERA in 20 appearances for the Sox, and was never effective.

His arrival was unsettling for Gagne and, to a degree, the rest of the Sox bullpen in ’07. Some of the members of the bullpen seemed leery that a move for Wagner might have a similar effect now, on a bullpen that ranks third in the A.L. with a 3.67 ERA. While an additional arm could well benefit the club, especially by redistributing the late-innings workload in a fashion that would keep everyone fresher for the stretch. Even so, the members of the Boston bullpen have seen before that theory and practice are not always aligned.

“We loved Gagne coming over here, just the stuff that he had, but it was an awkward situation this late in the season,” said Delcarmen. “I think our bullpen is fine right now.

“It is what it is. If (Wagner) comes and helps us win, that’€™s what we want. But sometimes, shaking things up this late might work out different. We’€™ll see what happens.”

Read More: billy wagner, eric gagne, Jonathan Papelbon, Mets
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