Wagner's Replacements Already In Place

Billy Wagner experienced more pain in his injured left shoulder Tuesday and will fly back to Philadelphia to see team physician Dr.Michael Ciccotti in Philadelphia. The latest setback in Wagner's recovery should raise some red flags about the potential of bringing Wagner back next season to be the Phillies' closer. There might be other options already in the organization who could handle the job.

Needless to say, the Phillies will need to take a second look at the team that they put together for the 2004 season. Things didn't go the way they had hoped and some changes are likely to be in order. One of the problems this season has been injuries and perhaps, one of those injuries will open the door to some financial flexibility when the offseason shopping spree rolls around.

Billy Wagner became a Phillie with plenty of pomp and circumstance. He was the first, and most substantial, addition to the Phillies last winter. He was supposed to be the missing link that would put the Phillies over the top. Plus, he was signed for two seasons, figuring that everything would go so well that the Phillies would of course pick up his option for 2005. That move would cost the Phillies $9 million. The option included a buyout, which of course, the Phillies would never want to exercise, for $3 million. Well, three injuries later, that option may be looking pretty good.

It looks like Wagner has become injured goods. Expensive injured goods. That's not the kind of player that you look to keep around. Still though, when he's on, Billy Wagner is one of the top closers in the game, so cutting him loose may not be an easy decision. It may well hinge on how you could replace him and there are options for filling Wagner's shoes. Troy Percival, Armando Benitez, John Smoltz, Jose Mesa, Robb Nen and Trevor Hoffman are the key closers who could be on the free agent list this winter. Hoffman and Smoltz could return to their teams if San Diego and Atlanta exercise their options for next season. Nen has been hurt and will likely have to settle for a small, one-yer deal, while Jose Mesa remains persona non grata in Philadelphia. That would mean Percival or Benitez as free agent options. Perhaps, the options would be better if the Phillies were to look inside their own organization.

One potential closer that has been discussed is Brett Myers. The upside could be huge. Myers admits that he is conscious of pacing himself as a starter and has said publicly that he would welcome a move to the closer's job. When reporters asked Myers about the possibility, he talked glowingly about being able to come in and just let it all go for one inning and not having to worry about hanging around deep into a game. He also talked about the opportunity to be involved in more games than he is as a starter. This sounds like a man who wants the opportunity to close. Perhaps, the Phillies would do well to move him into the back end of the bullpen this September to see what he can do. After all, they'll be looking for a spot in the rotation for Gavin Floyd, who is likely to be added after September 1st.

Another option would be Ryan Madson. The young reliever has been an eye opener and has put together an awesome rookie season. One drawback though could be that, unlike Myers, Madson seems to look longingly toward a return to the starting rotation. He has done well in the bullpen and has willingly accepted the job, but he believes he could do best as a starter. There's not a lot of time to get the injured Madson back and stretched out into starter's shape for this season, but he could definitely move into the starting rotation for next year if the Phillies needed him to. When the Phillies worked Madson into tight relief situations, he excelled. This is a kid who didn't just get his nickname – Mad Dog – because it fit easily with his last name. He earned the name by being tough and ready to battle through tight spots.

Cutting Wagner's $9 million paycheck off next year's payroll would free up money to put elsewhere. The Phillies will also likely cut costs with the losses of Kevin Millwood, Roberto Hernandez, Placido Polanco, Doug Glanville and possibly Rheal Cormier. If all five were to leave, the Phillies would have cut just under $16 million worth of payroll. That would free up plenty of money to pursue Eric Milton, who is also eligible for free agency. If Milton does decide to leave, the Phillies would have another $9 million to add to the coffers.

While Billy Wagner may have a complete, full and total recovery over the offseason, the fact is that he is going to be at least a bit of a health concern coming into next season. That risk is likely greater than putting Myers or Madson into the closer's role for the season. After all, Wagner's injuries have been a key part of the bullpen reshuffling that has gone on throughout the season and has also been spotlighted as a major reason whey the Phillies haven't competed. We've all heard about the problems that moving Tim Worrell into the closer's role caused, resulting in the shuffling of the bullpen.

The Phillies may need to think aggressively about how they want to shape things for next season. There are some options that they can pursue and perhaps a September audition of closer's is a good place to start.

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