A Look at New Red Sox Reliever Billy Wagner
|08.25.09 at 6:09 pm ET|
Just when we all thought Billy Wagner was staying in New York, the left-handed reliever agreed to waive his no-trade clause just minutes before the Tuesday deadline – effectively becoming a member of the 2009 Boston Red Sox.
It’s pretty clear this season will most likely be the extent of his term in Boston following the Red Sox agreement with Wagner not to pick up his 2010 option. Still, the team does reserve the right to offer the 38-year-old pitcher arbitration, according to ESPN’s Buster Olney. In the event that they do pursue arbitration hearings, Boston will still receive two draft picks even if Wagner departs as a free agent.
Initial reports said Wagner was reluctant to agree to a trade in a cautious attempt to stay healthy following recent Tommy John surgery. But just as the deadline approached, the lefty evidently changed his mind and decided to take a risk on Boston with the potential reward of a championship ring in October – one notable item that’s missing from Wagner’s impressive trophy case.
A Look at Billy Wagner
Perhaps the most interesting fact about Wagner is that the southpaw used to be a righty. Growing up in Virginia, Wagner did almost everything sports-related and non sports-related as a righty. That is, until he broke his right arm twice within a short period of time while playing football and was forced to teach himself to throw left-handed through intense repetition. As the old adage goes, practice makes perfect, and in this case practice certainly made Billy Wagner almost perfect.
In 1990, he was named Baseball Player of the Year coming out of Tazewell High School and pitching exclusively as a lefty who threw heat (although he still eats and writes with his right hand). He later attended Ferrum College in Virginia where he posted a 17-3 record in three years and set the Division III record for career strikeouts with 327 in 182.1 innings pitched. Not to mention, Wagner still holds the single-season NCAA record for strikeouts per nine innings (19.1).
The Houston Astros selected Wagner in the first round of the 1993 draft (12th pick overall), and used him exclusively as a starting pitcher throughout his two-year stint in the minors. By 1996, the flame throwing lefty had been converted to a reliever, going 2-2 with nine saves, 67 strikeouts, and a 2.44 ERA in 37 games for Houston.
Wagner ultimately saved 225 games for the Astros between 1996 and 2003 before being traded to the Philadelphia Phillies just before the 2004 season. (The move was supposedly made in an attempt to free up salary that was later used for Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens to come to Houston.) Though his first season in Philadelphia was shortened by injuries, he came back in 2005 with 38 saves and a 1.51 ERA to boot.
This, of course, helped his case during free agency the following season when he signed a four-year, $43 million deal with the Mets. While New York GM Omar Minaya was certainly aggressive in his pursuit of Wagner – along with plenty of other teams with big money to spend on free agents – reports speculate that the Phillies made no attempt to re-sign their closer, considering the former Phillies closer to be somewhat of a clubhouse cancer. While in Philadelphia, Wagner reportedly criticized the team on multiple occasions, and even said his former teammates hoped he would fail because he wasn’t well liked in the clubhouse. What’s more, Wagner claimed former Phillies outfielder Pat Burrell called him “a rat.”
Between 2006 and 2008, Wagner had three very impressive seasons with Mets. He saved 40, 34, and 27 games respectively in those seasons while also posting ERAs of 2.63 or lower. In his first post-season with the Mets in 2006, Wagner recorded three saves but also allowed six runs over 5.2 innings.
In September 2008, Wagner sustained more injuries to his left elbow and underwent Tommy John surgery.
At 38 years old and coming off major elbow surgery, Wagner doesn’t seem the likeliest candidate to propel the Red Sox to a championship. But he’s stated that he’s not done playing baseball just yet, and that above all else he’d like to win a World Series. In a 2008 interview with MLB.com, Wagner said:
“Somewhere down the road, I am going to help somebody win a championship.”
For now, his sights are set on Boston. Although he has suffered plenty of injuries and setbacks during his 14-year MLB career, Wagner has enjoyed much success, too. The six-time All-Star was the NL Rolaids Relief Man of the Year in 1999, the Steve Carlton Most Valuable Pitcher in 2005, and number six all-time in saves behind Dennis Eckersley. During this crucial stretch, he’ll most likely abandon his closer role to pitch in the eighth and set the stage for Papelbon. And while this isn’t necessarily his preferred status, he’s realized that this may be the only way to fulfill his prophecy that somewhere down the road, he’s going to help somebody win a championship.
Hopefully for Boston, it’ll be the Red Sox.
- Wagner needs 15 saves to reach 400 for his career, and 40 to pass John Franco as the left-hander with the most all-time saves.
- Though only 5’11, Wagner has been known to reach 100 MPH effortlessly throughout his career – an accomplishment not common for many lefties.
- According to Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal:
“The money that the Red Sox are saving on the performance bonuses that could have gone to John Smoltz and might have gone to Brad Penny — if he had remained in the rotation — will match almost dollar-for-dollar the $3.5 million that they owe Wagner in remaining salary and a $1 million buyout.”
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