Phillies Struck At Right Time To Get Wagner

The Phillies trade for closer Billy Wagner not only gives their bullpen an immediate improvement and legitimacy, it may pave the way for other moves. Wagner is a known quantity. His career numbers are probably better than even the most avid baseball fan realizes and he's got a desire to win. Off the field, his personality should fit in well in the clubhouse, which is always an important part of any trade.

Billy Wagner may have put himself in the Houston doghouse last season when he criticized the front office for not doing more to improve the team. When the Astros looked for ways to cut salary after the 2003 season, they looked first and foremost at the $8.0 million that Wagner was set to earn (plus another $3.0 million in a buyout for the 2005 season) and decided that he was a likely one to jettison. With his sizeable contract and his open criticism of the front office, Wagner knew he was a goner.

The surprise in the deal is the timing. The Phillies were rumored to be looking at trades for Wagner or Anaheim's Troy Percival, but that was down the road. Everybody assumed that they would start their search for a closer by strolling through the forest of closers that are on the free agent market. Names like Tom Gordon and Keith Foulke were thrown around. Trading for a closer seemed to be sort of a "Plan B" approach.

If the timing of the deal was the surprise, it was also the brilliance of the trade. The Phillies didn't allow other teams who may be spurned by free agent closers to get involved in the process and hike the price of Wagner. The Astros didn't know how things would play out and took what they saw as a good offer for their career saves leader. While a bidding war may have erupted down the road, with the new economics of baseball, the war may have never taken place and the Astros may not have been able to get the deal that they did with the Phillies.

Another key part of the timing is in fact, the impact that it may have on the free agent market. Of course, the closers on the market know that one of their options just dried up and went away. The starters on the free agent market though, are the ones who may be impacted by the Phillies deal for Wagner. If you're a free agent starter and you were looking at the Phillies, one concern would be who would be there to back you up. Who would come in to close the game after you've done your job? With Wagner in the bullpen, the Phillies have answered that question. A guy like Andy Pettite, who is figured on either staying with the Yankees or heading home to either the Rangers or Astros might now look at the Phillies. Yes, the Astros may have freed up some room to pursue Pettite, but they may have also shot themselves in the foot since they don't have a proven closer to back up their starters now.

Billy Wagner is also a good personality for the Phillies. He's a little more outspoken than say Jim Thome, but he's certainly not one to rant and rave. He doesn't shy away from saying what he believes, but his words are chosen carefully and often only hurt because they're true. Basically, Wagner is a good ole country boy who you can easily imagine will become instant friends with the likes of Thome. Wagner is a strong believer in the concept of a team. He knows that he alone doesn't make the Phillies a contender and he knows that others will have a large part of the spotlight. That's fine with Wagner. His personality only got him in trouble when he thought that he, his teammates and the Astros fans deserved better. He believed that the front office wasn't giving their all for the fans and he said so. Truth can hurt.

As for the deal, don't think for a moment that the Phillies were able to steal Wagner. While Brandon Duckworth was disappointing in Philadelphia, he's got enough talent to turn things around and could well become a solid major league pitcher. Ezequiel Astacio is a strong young pitcher who could turn out to be a mid to top of the rotation major league starter in a few short years. The guy that the Astros insisted on though, was Taylor Buchholz. For a kid who grew up as a Phillies fan, being traded away from the Phillies has to be a disappointment. In reality though, Buchholz has a quicker and easier road to the majors with Houston. His future no longer has names like Gavin Floyd and Cole Hamels ahead of him. Buchholz is no longer an after thought on a prospect list. Instead, he becomes one of the better pitching prospects in the Astros organization.

Last season was relatively easy for Phillies GM Ed Wade. Signing Jim Thome was a no-brainer and let's face it, Kevin Millwood fell to the Phillies as a gift of the baseball gods. He wasn't on their radar screen and had he not been made available, the Phillies pursuit of another starting pitcher may have ended with the Phillies on the losing end of a shutout. Don't forget that Tom Glavine, Jamie Moyer and even Paul Byrd turned down the Phillies before Millwood arrived from Atlanta. This offseason, Wade will have to work a little harder. The choices aren't as easy and if he can't get what he wants through free agency, he'll have some hard choices to make on the trade market. At what point would Wade pull the trigger and send Floyd or Hamels elsewhere? Would he do it for Curt Schilling? For Javier Vazquez? Or, will he refuse to include either pitcher in a trade and be forced to settle for lesser, middle of the rotation type choices?

Jayson Stark of believes that the deal for Wagner is just as big as the signing of Jim Thome. Time will tell. Wagner's arrival definitely gives the Phillies a huge boost in the bullpen. With Rheal Cormier definitely coming back and Dan Plesac now interested in coming back, the Phillies could load up with three strong left-handers coming out of the pen. Speaking of Plesac, this has to make him think about another season with the Phillies. After all, the guy wants to win a championship and the Phillies patched up a major hole in their arsenal. Plesac and Wagner share the desire to win, there is no doubt about that.

There is still a lot of work to do. The Phillies have to rebuild the rest of their bullpen and they need to find at least one quality starting pitcher to add to the rotation. Finding some offensive firepower for the bench will be no small task either. Wagner is just the first step of the offseason, but the Phillies have jumped out of the starting blocks very well. The rest of the race is yet to be run, but you have to believe that the Phillies have charted a course that may give them an offseason race to remember.

What the fans are saying.
A sampling of posts from PhillyTown – The PBN Message Board.

"Thanks from the bottom of a Cubs fans heart!!! Getting this guy out of our division was HUGE." - mmontalto

"I think its a fair deal for BOTH teams. I don't like losing Buchholz, but he's not even our 3rd best pitching prospect. I can live with that. Astacio has potential, and I'm not too hurt losing him either." - RUBroncs

"Jose who? The Phillies win the pennant! The Phillies win the pennant!!" - rondodondo

"wow this is brilliant. I don't have to crap my pants anymore when going into the 9th winning a close game." - FlyBoyMarty

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