Why do Red Sox want Billy Wagner?

August, 25, 2009
8/25/09
2:43
PM ET
Well, the Red Sox finally got their man. But why did they want their man? Before Billy Wagner officially joined the Sox, here's what Nick Cafardo wrote:
    Wagner, who has returned ahead of schedule from that Tommy John surgery, threw a successful inning Thursday, and the Sox liked that he hit 96 miles per hour once and was throwing around 92-93 consistently.

    The Red Sox probably could use a setup man for Papelbon because young Daniel Bard's inexperience could become an issue. His numbers have become more human over the last seven games; he's allowed runs in five of them.

    Could Wagner be that setup man? GM Theo Epstein would at least like to find out.

    But Papelbon said he thinks Epstein has a tricky decision ahead, and the closer is concerned about redefining roles in the bullpen if Wagner comes aboard.

    "When you acquire somebody you have to get rid of somebody," reasoned Papelbon. "I like the way our bullpen sets up right now. So that's the tough situation."

    --snip--

    Papelbon thinks the Red Sox have a "good dynamic in the bullpen, I think we have guys who know how to work together. Is Billy Wagner a good pitcher, would he bring some more depth to our bullpen and make our bullpen better? There's no question about it, but you also have to think about what we have now and what we've been able to accomplish to this point in the season and how good we've been."

Relief pitchers don't "work together," but otherwise Papelbon's got a pretty good point. The Red Sox "could use a setup man"? Their relievers have the best ERA (3.64) in the American League, and they have four relievers with at least 45 innings and an ERA between 2.04 (Papelbon) and 2.80 (Takashi Saito). Daniel Bard's ERA (3.76) isn't brilliant, but his strikeout-to-walk ratio (3.06) is the best in the bullpen. Nearly every other team in the American League would kill for the Red Sox' bullpen.

So why is the front office devoting so much time and energy to Billy Wagner? Because they can, and he's there. For the same reasons, basically, that they devoted so much time and energy to John Smoltz. When you're the Red Sox and you can outspend (almost) everyone and out-think everyone, apparently your attention sometimes turns to the shiniest object in the store, even if you've already got three of them at home.

It's all a bit much for a relief pitcher who probably won't pitch even a dozen innings the rest of the way. The only excuse I can imagine is the Red Sox think that a dozen down the stretch might lead to another half-dozen or so in October.

Wait a minute. I can imagine one more excuse. Might the Red Sox also be interested in Wagner because if they offer him arbitration this winter and he declines, they might pick up a couple of draft picks next summer? This possibility might almost push the deal over the top for me, except that Wagner will be coming off an injury and might happily accept arbitration rather than hit the free-agent market. Something else to think about, anyway.

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