By 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.
By Jon Lane
In case you haven’t heard – how was life on Jupiter? – it’s Yankees vs. Red Sox this weekend. Stay with YESNetwork.com all weekend for the latest from Fenway Park.
Many believe a three-game sweep would be a knockout punch to the Red Sox and their division title homes. A 9 ½-game deficit would be virtually insurmountable. It’s never over until … you know … but I truly think the Yankees are too talented and disciplined to pull a 2006 Mets, 1995 Angels or 1964 Phillies and blow this thing.
Speaking of the Mets – I’ll leave the folks from Flushing to deal with the latest Gary Sheffield mess – Billy Wagner made his return to the Majors Thursday night. He looked great, perfect in fact, hitting 96 MPH on the gun and whiffing two in the Mets’ 3-2 loss to the Braves. Not too shabby in his first big-league appearance coming off Tommy John surgery.
How much longer Wagner will remain a Met is the next question. Wagner today was claimed on waivers, reports SI.com’s Jon Heyman, which leaves the Mets three days to work out a deal with the claiming team. Francisco Rodriguez is the closer and the Mets have no intention on picking up Wagner’s $10 million club option for next year.
Prior to Heyman’s story I had a thought: Yankeeland.
Right now the Yankees have one left-hander in their bullpen, Phil Coke, and there will be two if Damaso Marte is actually activated. But does anyone actually trust Marte in a big spot? In any spot? And as well as Coke has pitched this year, how much pressure do you think his young shoulders will handle facing David Ortiz or Jacoby Ellsbury in the ALCS? Or for that matter, Curtis Granderson, Josh Hamilton or Bobby Abreu in October pressure situations?
Enter Wagner, and before you start going So Taguchi on me, remember that the only Sandman in the Bronx is Mariano Rivera. That means the final fate of the game won’t be on Wagner’s repaired left shoulder. He’ll give Coke and Phil Hughes a blow. He’ll face one or two hitters in big spots, and he’ll work against lefties or righties (Wagner has held right-handed hitters to a .186 lifetime average).
Moreover, you get a fresh arm, albeit one you handle with care, but one with loaded bullets.
Brian Cashman has more than a week to evaluate. There’s little to complain about the Yankees these days (though to some complaining is the spice of life). But Wagner, despite the 10.38 ERA he compiled in the 2006 postseason, is your standard low-risk, high-reward investment. The Mets won’t ask for the world in prospects, only some help in Steinbrenner dollars. That’s a good deal.
There’s more than one big series this weekend. The Rangers, trailing the Red Sox by a game in the Wild Card race, are in St. Petersburg for a critical three-game set with the Rays. If the Yankees and Rangers are able to take their respective series, it’s a tremendous boost to the men in pinstripes. The Rays’ postseason hopes would take a dive straight towards South Beach while the Red Sox would be buried in the division race and out of the playoff picture, but not out cold. Beginning with the Rays and continuing next week in the Bronx, the Rangers will play 15 of his next 19 games on the road.