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Fixing the bullpen a pain for Red Sox

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Sean McAdam

   
 
When Theo Epstein claimed Billy Wagner on waivers late last week, he knew completing a deal for the New York Mets lefty could be complicated. "I didn't think we'd know much until a couple of hours before the deadline,'' said Epstein. But never did he think it would get as bizarre as it did. Between last Friday and Tuesday afternoon, when Wagner was dealt to the Red Sox in a waiver deal, the reliever himself changed his mind about waiving his no-trade clause; the Mets boosted their demands for compensation after Wagner hit 95 mph in his first appearance in a year; and Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon launched his own protest to the deal. In the end, Epstein made the deal work, sending Four A slugger Chris Carter and another low-level prospect to be named to the Mets — but not before plenty of drama, right down to the final hour. Even Wagner's agent, Bean Stringfellow, thought the deal was dead Tuesday morning, with Wagner refusing to budge on his demands that the Sox not pick up his 2010 option and guarantee that they wouldn't offer salary arbitration. Ultimately, the two sides split the difference — the Sox wouldn't pick up the option but retained the right to arbitration, giving them draft-pick compensation. Finally, a troika of Red Sox officials — Epstein, Terry Francona and pitching coach John Farrell — spoke with Wagner Monday night and assured him that they would be sensitive to the fact that he was just 11 months removed from Tommy John surgery. Eventually, Wagner relented and opted to be a complementary part for a pennant contender rather than finish the season with the also-ran Mets. "I think it wound up changing because of his competitive nature and his hopes of playing in the postseason,'' said agent Bean Stringfellow. "More than anything else, I think it's just in his nature that given the opportunity to compete, he will.'' As Epstein revealed Tuesday, the Sox were already in the market for a second lefty to team with Hideki Okajima. When Wagner, fourth on the all-time saves list and capable of mid- to high-90s heat became available, Epstein saw it as a two-fer. The Sox bullpen #151; like the team itself — had been faltering of late. Ramon Ramirez had seen his ERA climb in each successive month since April. Manny Delcarmen sported a 5.75 ERA since the All-Star break. And rookie Daniel Bard, who went all of July without allowing a run in a set-up capacity, had seemingly hit a wall, scored upon in five of his last seven outings.
Wagner's availability solved two problems, providing an experienced, hard-throwing option to share the load in the seventh and eighth innings, while giving them another lefty weapon. But then came Papelbon's outsized reaction to the deal. Two years ago, when the Sox were about to obtain Eric Gagne at the deadline from Texas, the Red Sox sent a caravan of officials to Papelbon's downtown condo to tell the closer that he wasn't being supplanted. Before they could have the same talk this time, Papelbon reacted. "What has he done?'' asked Papelbon. "Has he pitched this year?" Is he ready to pitch or is he not? ... I think our bullpen is good where we're at right now. Don't get me wrong. But I guess you could always make it better. It's kind of like the (Eric) Gagne thing, I guess." Papelbon's remarks weren't made out of any personal insecurity. He didn't see Wagner's acquisition as a threat to his own role, but rather, as a move which had the potential to upset the Boston bullpen dynamic. "When you acquire somebody you have to get rid of somebody,'' said Papelbon. "I like the way our bullpen sets up right now. So that's the tough situation. 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.'' From 250 miles away, Wagner took umbrage at Papelbon's reaction. "When he walks in my shoes then I'll say something,'' Wagner in the Mets clubhouse Sunday. "Let him be 38 and have Tommy John surgery." Eventually, Francona and Epstein met with Papelbon and smoothed over the differences. "He doesn't have much of a filter,'' said Francona of his closer. "But his heart is in the right place.'' Epstein was slightly less diplomatic in his post-controversy assessment. "He's not a Rhodes Scholar to begin with,'' said Epstein. "When I talked to him directly about it he couldn't have been more excited.'' Wagner will arrive Thursday and the Sox will begin plotting out role and usage. He'll give them an important weapon, lighten the load for Okajima and could potentially impact games with the Yankees — in late September, or perhaps, in an ALCS showdown — by helping to neutralize lefties like Hideki Matsui and Johnny Damon, while turning around switch-hitters like Mark Teixeira to the right side in Yankee Stadium. He represents the third significant acquisition by Epstein since July 31, following catcher Victor Martinez and shortstop Alex Gonzalez. "That's the greatest thing about having Theo as your general manager,'' said Papelbon of the upgrades. "You know he's going to fight tooth and nail to win a championship, just like the guys in this clubhouse are.'' Even when that fight is sometimes far more complicated than expected.
Tagged: Victor Martinez, Mark Teixeira, Jonathan Papelbon, Ramon Ramirez, Red Sox, Daniel Bard, Hideki Okajima, Yankees, Johnny Damon, Hideki Matsui, Mets

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