Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wagner Not the Answer for the Red Sox

Last night, I first watched Brad Penny do a very successful impression of a batting practice machine (well at least for the Yankees it was a successful impression). Then I saw "top prospect" Michael Bowden equally look like a red and white pinata on the mound. As a result, I had to wonder if the Red Sox can do anything to stem the Yankee Tide, which right now looks like Hurricane Bill's effects on the north east coastline.

Then I was reminded that the Red Sox claimed Billy Wagner off waivers from the Mets yesterday before the 20-11 beat down at the hands of the Yankees. Wagner, a fourteen year veteran, out for the nearly past year with elbow ligament replacement surgery, is still valuable as he can still hit the mid 90's with his fastball and struck out two batters in his first outing back from rehab against the Braves Thursday night. Who couldn't use a flame throwing lefty who is sixth on the all time saves list with 385 saves?

Herein lies the problem. First, the Red Sox don't need a closer with Jonathan Papelbon and his 2.08 ERA and 29 saves. Well, the next easy observation is that Wagner could setup Papelbon. Well, that's not exactly what the Red Sox need either. With Ramon Ramirez (2.67), Hideki Okajima (2.77) and Takashi Saito (2.86), the Sox have four very good setup relievers. Throw in Josh Bard (3.50) and Manny Delcarmen (3.47), the Sox relief corps really don't need much help. So what's the Sox problem in keeping up with the Yanks?

Starting pitching. Only Josh Beckett (3.38) and Jon Lester (3.50) have been solid for the Red Sox lately. The jury is still out on Clay Buchholz, despite his 3.99 ERA. The jury came back with the verdict on Brad Penny, who was found guilty of not justifying his $ 9.2 million dollar salary with his 5.61 ERA and 160 hits and 17 HRs in only 131 innings pitched. John Smoltz was equally dismal in his short stay with the Sox and Michael Bowden may not be ready for prime time. Tim Wakefield and his 11-3 record should be back next week. But Wakefield is more of a back of the rotation pitcher and will be hard pressed to improve on his 4.31 ERA. Dice K may also be back soon but he is even more of a question mark. So much so, the Sox signed Paul Byrd to a minor league contract. Byrd, pitching at Triple A Pawtucket, might be up before Dice K gets back.

Originally I thought the Red Sox were winners at the trade deadline when they acquired Victor Martinez. But hindsight is 20-20 and for the Sox to compete with the Yanks, they needed one more dominant starter - Roy Halladay. The Sox may have overestimated the value of young pitchers like Buchholz and Bowden. Or perhaps, J.P. Ricciardi wanted too much from the Sox. The likely answer lies somewhere in the middle.

So why did Theo Epstein claim Wagner when the problem is clearly starting pitching? The best guess is that the Sox blocked the Yankees from getting Wagner. The Yankees were looking for a second lefty out of the bullpen, someone with a little more experience than Phil Coke. With Wagner and Hughes setting up Mariano, the Yankees would be unstoppable. The problem though is in the last five games the Yankees have won head to head, the Sox in general can't keep it close enough to get it to the late innings. Last night, the score was 15-4 going into the bottom of the fifth.

Another question was where were other teams on claiming Wagner? Yes, teams who claimed him might be responsible for his $3.5 million salary, but no team in the National League needed Wagner??? As you may or may not know, when a team puts a player on waivers, the teams in his league first get an opportunity to claim him in standings order worst to first. If no team claims him in the one league, then and only then can teams in the other league claim him worst to first.

Thus Wagner had to go through the entire NL first before going through the AL. Thus several teams who DESPERATELY need relief pitching passed up on Wagner. The first team that comes to mind is the Chicago Cubs, who recently switched from the awful Kevin Gregg to the often wild Carlos Marmol. But that shows the Cubs with the recent near sale of the team from the Tribune Company to the Ricketts Family can not add any payroll at this moment. The next team in NL standings order was the Florida Marlins. But the Marlins history of low payroll, Wagner was certainly not going to be claimed by them.

The Giants would be next on the list and surprisingly Brian Sabean didn't put a waiver claim in. Brian Wilson has not exactly been lights out as a closer and Wagner would certainly be an improvement. And Wagner's $8 million club option next season seems pretty reasonable for the market place considering Oliver Perez makes $12 million and Derek Lowe makes $15 million with their mediocre to awful statistics. But alas Sabean passed as did the Cardinals (they seriously must be out of payroll after adding Holliday and Lugo), the Phillies didn't seem to want a reunion with Wagner, despite how horrible Brad Lidge has been and the Dodgers have no need with the addition of George Sherrill at the end of July. Thus that's how Wagner got to the AL waiver claim list. Texas and Tampa Bay have their own payroll issues and neither really needed a reliever either. Thus came Boston.

So whether Wagner will go to the Sox or not is in serious question. My guess is that Epstein will only take Wagner if the Mets take on part or most of the salary. Also don't expect much in return for Wagner if a deal is worked out. The Sox don't need Wagner and Epstein knows it. Thus if the Mets get anything, it will be similar to the haul (chuckle chuckle) the Pirates got for Adam LaRoche. If Billy could go five plus innings, that would be a different story.

Prediction - Mets can't work out a deal for Wagner and let him go to the Sox for nothing with the Sox footing the bill for the $3.5 million. I simply can't see the Sox and Theo Epstein giving up any Top 20 prospect for Wagner.

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