The dark side of Wagner

wagner_250_082509.jpgBy Jon Lane
Well, it was a thought.

On Friday I floated the idea of the Yankees making a move for Billy Wagner and how he’d be an asset down the stretch. Alas, minutes later Wagner was claimed on waivers and that night it was revealed the claimant was the Red Sox.

After days of will-he-or-won’t-he posturing, after the assumption Wagner would not waive his no-trade clause due to Boston’s refusal to meet a few conditions, this deal is done. Wagner is headed to the Red Sox for two players to be named later.

I asked last week for you not to go So Taguchi on me and review the benefits of Wagner in pinstripes. He would have rode shotgun to Mariano Rivera and possibly serve as a situational left-hander who’d share the load with Phil Coke and Damaso Marte. In Boston he’ll spell Hideki Okajima, Terry Francona’s lone lefty reliever, and his team-leading 56 appearances, and take a passenger seat to Jonathan Papelbon.

Wagner will help the BoSox and their recently overworked bullpen, counting on the return of Tim Wakefield and eventually Daisuke Matsuzaka to eat innings rather than spit them out. But as a public service to my readers, many loyal followers of the New York Yankees, here’s  why the Red Sox are also taking a chance adding Wagner to the mix.

In the interest of fairness, I would have done the same had Wagner officially become a Yankee, but I read your minds. The first time Wagner takes the mound wearing red, white and green, you’ll be having Taguchi flashbacks. You’ll see visions of Ramiro Pena or Jerry Hairston Jr. taking Wagner deep late September at Yankee Stadium, the Indians’ Luis Valbuena crushing Boston’s playoff hopes Sunday, October 4, at Fenway Park, or perhaps the Angels’ Maicer Izturis going yard in Game 5 of the ALDS in Anaheim.

Besides an inspiring comeback from Tommy John surgery, hitting the upper 90s on the gun and his bravery in big spots, here’s what the Red Sox may have to endure the next month or maybe two:

? Wagner was awful in his last postseason appearance of 2006 and not just because of Taguchi. His ERA was 10.38 and in 11 career playoff games, he’s 1-1 with an 8.71 ERA.

? The Red Sox’s front office was cheering when it beat out the Yankees on Trade Deadline day of 2007 when the team acquired Eric Gagne from the Texas Rangers. Gagne, who four years earlier saved 55 games, was supposed to form a lockdown duo with Papelbon. In his first 15 appearances, Gagne allowed 14 earned runs in 14 innings (a 9.00 ERA) with three blown saves and an opponents batting average of more than .350. Okay, the Red Sox won a World Series despite Gagne, but a few of their core players are a bit older this time around.

? Papelbon, the king of restraint who once had the gall to suggest that he and not Mariano Rivera close the 2008 All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, will have to welcome Wagner days after saying his services weren’t needed.

“I don’t have anything to say about somebody like that,” Wagner said in response. “When he walks in my shoes, then I’ll say something. Let him be 38 and have Tommy John surgery and come back.”

Contrary to popular belief, the Red Sox aren’t dead yet. They remain the favorites to capture the AL Wild Card in my book. Yet this team has endured enough between injuries and David Ortiz. Two outspoken egos won’t help the clubhouse culture.

_______________________

Johan Santana is out for the season with bone chips in his left elbow. He’ll have arthroscopic surgery and expects to be ready for Spring Training. If you’re the Mets, no regrets trading for him. If you’re the Yankees, you’re taking a tremendous sigh of relief that you did not accept the Twins’ proposal of Phil Hughes, Melky Cabrera and two mid-level prospects.

The Yankees would have made the playoffs last season with Santana, who in turn would have won at least 20 games and possibly his third Cy Young Award. However, the goal here – at least under Brian Cashman’s watch – is rebuilding and maintaining a program. Since 2002 the organization reverted back to overspending for a quick fix, a philosophy that led to a steady decline in the late 1980s and 67-95 record in 1990. One look at what Cabrera and Hughes have done – and optimism over how Hughes still can be – and you realize such a price was too steep.

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