When it comes to what awaits, Billy Wagner knows the deal.
“I know [the Red Sox] are going to offer me arbitration and of course I’m probably going to turn it down,” said the Red Sox reliever. “I have a million people telling me why would you turn down the option, or why would you do this or that. Well, I didn’t come in this game looking for money, I was just good enough to make some. If I’m going to go chasing money… I haven’t been wise with my money to begin with.”
Wagner understands what COULD happen, but because of the 38-year-old’s focus on what is right for him and what isn’t, much of it isn’t going to take place.
The Red Sox COULD pick up Wagner’s $8 million option for 2010, but won’t per a written agreement put in place when trading for the reliever.
With the Red Sox undoubtedly set to offer Wagner arbitration in order to get the two draft picks if he signs with another team, the pitcher COULD accept the offer and be guaranteed at least $10 million for next season. (It’s a number that might be a reach otherwise considering the uncertainties that come with returning from Tommy John surgery.) But, as he noted, that isn’t likely.
He wants to close again. Simple. And with the likelihood of that happening with the Red Sox being slim to none, trading that chance for guaranteed money through arbitration is a swap Wagner is ready to make.
“Oh yeah,” he said when asked if his focus is on playing ’10 as some team’s closer. “If I pitch again that’s what I’m going to do. “
“When I sit down in the offseason and I feel like I want to give it a go, or if anybody wants to pick me up, we’ll see,” Wagner said. “But I don’t have to play next year.”
But what about the blood, sweat and tears that it took over that 11 months to get back on a major-league mound? Former Sox pitcher John Smoltz said his goal throughout the process of rehabbing his injured pitching arm was to pitch beyond just this one season. Wagner takes a bit of a different tact.
“I worked hard to come back as a commitment to (Mets owner Fred Wilpon) knowing what he’s paying me. I wasn’t just sitting around,” Wagner said. “I was doing something to get better. That plus being able to go out and play catch with my kids, that’s what motivated me.
“If something like (closing) falls into my lap I would definitely consider it. It also comes down to being home with my family and doing right by them. I’ve played long enough, whether people think my career was valuable enough to put me in the Hall of Fame, or say I could even be mentioned, that’s up to guys who may not have played or don’t know anything about baseball.”
And if the money wasn’t enough of a temptation, there is that potential trip to Cooperstown that would appear to be within striking distance of Wagner. He is currently 15 saves shy of 400 for his career, and 39 shy of tying John Franco for the most saves by any lefty in the history of the game.
All nice… but not potentially as nice as hanging with an 11-, 8-, 6- and 2-year-old back at home on a much more regular basis.
“For every person that says you should, there will be five or six that say you shouldn’t. If I base my life on everybody telling me what I need to do I would be in trouble,” Wagner said. “When do you say, ‘Hey, I’ve had a great career. I’ve done everything I could possibly do. If we win the World Series, great. If I get 400 saves, I get 400 saves.
“I’ve got a handful and they’re ready for daddy to be home and coach their teams. That 11 months I was with them, I really enjoyed my family. I could retire and enjoy it.”
As Wagner explains it, whatever resides on the horizon is “icing on the cake.” Desperation no longer enters the equation, but opportunity does. It’s a reality that has been well earned by a pitcher whose priorities outweigh any bank account.
“I guess there are a lot of things that would have to go into (coming back),” he said. “I’m not going to come out for a tryout. I’m not going to put that effort into going into something that is a tryout that says, ‘OK, if you’re good in spring training…’ I haven’t been good in spring training for 15 years, what’s going to make this year any different? I know what I can do. They’ve seen me for a long time. If you like what I bring to the table, great. If not I’ve had a great career and that’s fine.”
SPEAKING OF WAGNER
The lefty wants to clarify how he became a lefty:
“I’ve heard a couple of different stories. I was 8- or 9-years-old. I’ve heard the greatest stories of when I was 19 in college. I was playing football with a buddy of mine, he fell on my arm, broke my arm, I was put in a cast, and when the cast went off I went back out and played football with the same guy, he fell on me and broke my arm again. You want to play when you’re a kid, so you figure it out.”
The broken arm led to Wagner switching from throwing with his right arm to tossing exclusively with the side he utilizes today, his left.
“I can’t do a thing left-handed. I can’t do a thing,” Wagner said. “I can’t even put a pencil in my hand. It’s awful.”
Wagner says his right-handed days resurfaced when rehabbing from his arm surgery, having to throw that way when playing catch with his kids.
A PENNY FOR BECKETT’S THOUGHTS
Red Sox pitcher Josh Beckett got the text message from Brad Penny after that first start for the San Francisco Giants. A message was sent back, and so on, and so on, and so on.
The two were friends before Penny came to the Red Sox, and they will remain buddies well after the right-hander’s release at the end of August. That said, was there one instance that Beckett will always remember in the eight-month reunion with his former Marlins teammate?
“There were a lot of memorable times,” Beckett said. “But most of them were off the field, both of us being single at the beginning of the year.”
Quips aside, Beckett has been looking at what Penny accomplished in his first two starts (2-0, 1.20 ERA, 15 innings) with the Giants with great pride. While the results with the Red Sox weren’t what the player or the team expected or hoped for, it was a stint that didn’t go without a payoff.
“The first part of the year was just proving to himself that he was healthy,” said Beckett. “Once he figured out he was healthy all he had to do was go out there and reinvent his craft. Find out what made him a 16-game winner two years in a row. It takes everybody a different amount of time to figure those things out and I think he figured some things out when he was over here. I’m always pulling for the guy.
“The league believes he’s back to being healthy. I think he was actually the last one that really believed. I think the league started believing it even before he did.”
So, in Beckett’s opinion, why didn’t it work out for Penny with the Red Sox?
“I wouldn’t venture to guess,” he said. “I don’t like people making excuses for me and I don’t want to make any excuses for anybody else. I know he wishes things worked out differently, but I also know he enjoyed his time here. Things happen for a reason. “
WHAT AWAITS ROCCO?
So, has this season changed the perception of Rocco Baldelii in the eyes of organizations that expressed concern over his battle with a form of channelopathy?
“I hope so,” Baldelli said. “I’m not really the one to judge that, I’ll figure out where I’m going to be next year, next year. Boston has been very good to me. I’ve enjoyed my time here. Anybody would like to be here. But I’m not ready to speak about that until I get to that point.”
It would appear that the 27-year-old has done his part.
As a pinch-hitter he is 5-for-12 with a walk. Against left-handers Baldelli is hitting .289. And the Rhode Island native has seven homers in just 143 plate appearances.
They aren’t gaudy numbers, but Baldelli is rarely called upon to do gaudy things. He is a solid right-handed bat off the bench who has shown the ability to play an above-average outfield.
He hasn’t started back-to-back games since July 17-18, and this year hasn’t been the 16 homers and .302 average he compiled in 92 games in 2006, but it would seem to be a step in right direction.
“For the most part I’m happy how the season has gone,” said Baldelli, who is signed to a one-year, $500,000 deal that is smattered with incentives. “I’ve felt relatively healthy for the year. But I’ll find out what’s going to happen soon enough.
“I know I’m feeling better than I did last year, and I know I’m feeling better than I was in spring training. I have been feeling better and better. The medication has helped me a lot and helped me get out there. I haven’t dealt with any of the issues that I’ve felt in the past. I’m able to go out there and worry about what I need to do and not worry about anything.”