Theo Epstein said it wasn’t until the last couple of hours of Boston’s pursuit of Billy Wagner that he had any idea he would land the lefthanded closer from the New York Mets for two minor leaguers to be named later.
In fact, Epstein thought a window that the Sox asked for and that was granted by Major League Baseball helped Wagner make up his mind. Epstein and other members of the Sox organization, including Terry Francona and John Farrell, spoke to Wagner this morning.
Said Epstein of all the stories predicting doom and gloom about Wagner not coming to Boston: “You guys (media) had nothing to do during those 48-hour windows, so there have been a lot of stories come out. Basically he had a full no-trade clause, so it was up to him whether he wanted to stay with the Mets or go to the Red Sox. Ultimately, in the end he woke up and said he wanted to join a team that was in the middle of a pennant race, had a chance to pitch into October, and a chance to get a ring. He’s never done it, so he went over the ups and downs, but he woke up today and he really wanted to win a World Series. So he made his choice for all the right reasons.”
Throughout the process — from the time Boston claimed him on Friday — Epstein said, “I didn’t think we’d know much until a couple of hours before the deadline.”
By noon the deal started looking as if it would come into place. Once Wagner, who will join th Sox Thursday, signed off on his no-trade, and once the Red Sox decided they would retain the right to offer him arbitration, the deal began to take shape. The Sox and Mets had already decided upon the pieces going back to New York.
“We were granted a window by Major League Baseball to talk to him directly. Once we did, all he talked about was a chance to win, and he seemed very excited about coming here,” Epstein said.
“We’re realistic,” added Epstein. “He’s less than a year removed from Tommy John surgery. We’re not claiming we won a playoff spot today. We made a move to add a really quality pitcher to our bullpen, and we already have a good bullpen. We’re real happy about that.”
Epstein said the Sox are inheriting a healthy pitcher but one who will have to be managed so he won’t be overworked. There will likely be “Wagner Rules” just as their are “Joba Rules” or even “Papelbon Rules” as to how much he can get up and warm up and how often he can appear. It’s likely he will get one or even two days off between appearances.
The Sox had been looking for a second lefty to compliment Hideki Okajima.
“We were going to try to make a move for a second lefty anyway,” Epstein said, “And when you can get someone of the quality of Billy Wagner, it’s nice. We already had a really good, deep bullpen. We weren’t looking to displace anyone. We certainly wanted to augment what we already had. Ownership deserves an awful lot of credit here. We added a couple of starting pitchers who were due to make a lot of money. There have been some developments in recent days where there’ll be some savings. There’ll be bonuses that won’t get paid out, so instead of pocketing that money, they allowed us to pursue ways to improve the club and helping us get into the postseason and World Series. So we were able to redirect those saving toward someone like Billy Wagner.”
Epstein has also had a long chat with Jonathan Papelbon on comments which first appeared on WEEI.com where Papelbon expressed reservations about including Wagner into the bullpen and how that would impact roles.
“I think Pap feels he was misunderstood,” Epstein said. “He’s not a Rhodes Scholar to begin with. When I talked to him directly about it he couldn’t have been more excited. When we had our window (to speak to Wagner), Pap went out of his way to make sure he knew he was more than welcome here. The Mets weren’t going to pick up his option and they were going to offer the same thing we did. We do have the right as the Mets would have had the right, to offer him arbitration at the end of the year. We’ll deal with that at the appropriate time.”
The Sox will assess Wagner’s performance and figure whether to offer arbitration. If they offer it and Wagner declines, the Sox will get two draft picks because Wagner is a Type-A free-agent. But if the Sox offer arbitration and Wagner has had a bad season, then he could accept salary arbitration which could become costly to the Red Sox for a player they might not necessarily want. In other words, they’ll make a decision on whether Wagner is the second coming of Eric Gagne or the second coming of Larry Andersen.