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Free Agent Fantasy Impact: Billy Wagner

Posted By Zach Sanders On November 3, 2009 @ 4:47 am In Closers | 13 Comments

In a scenario that seemed ridiculous at the start of the year, Billy Wagner may be one of the most highly sought after relievers this offseason. Wagner missed the majority of the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last August. Wagner rejoined the Mets on August 20th, and pitched two innings before being shipped off to Boston.

Even though he pitched only 15.2 innings this year, he proved to suitors that he was healthy by averaging 94mph+ on his fastball. While he only pitched on back-to-back days once, that issue should be resolved with an offseason of continued rehab and rest.

When Wagner did get the chance to pitch, he was back to his old (young?) self. A 14.94 K/9 helped contribute to a 1.72 ERA (2.33 FIP). A 4.60 BB/9 is disappointing, but with a 1.02 WHIP, it’s excusable.

If anyone owned Wagner for their fantasy playoffs, the only real value he provided was strikeouts, as he did not accumulate any saves while in Boston. However, because Wagner is a free agent, he has a chance to give owners a decent amount of saves next year, depending on which team he chooses.

He will not be back in Boston unless they trade Jonathan Papelbon and guarantee Wagner the closer’s role. So, where else could he end up? Speculation is that he would like to remain close to his home in Virginia, with the Nationals and Orioles as the two closest teams. The Orioles aren’t likely to spend a bundle of money on a closer, and the Nationals may be happy with Mike MacDougal. Plus, I would guess Wagner would like to compete for a title instead of toiling away on a sub-.500 team.

Could a return to the Phillies make sense? Brad Lidge has been shaky this year, and Philadelphia could opt to bring in an outside player to help shore up the back end of the bullpen. Because they owe Lidge $11.5MM next year, and Ryan Madson and J.C. Romero a combined $8.5MM, they aren’t likely to invest much more cash in the ‘pen. Don’t count them out, but don’t expect a huge push from them if Wagner asks for the big bucks. If he’s willing to move away from the East Coast, the Giants and Cardinals could be players, along with the Angels and Tigers.

If Wagner can find himself a closer’s job for a contender next year, he will be in the top half of fantasy closers, if not the top 10. His ability to strike batters out and experience in the ninth inning should allow you to draft him with confidence, but make sure to have a backup option ready in case his elbow explodes again.

If he’s not a closer, he is still draftable in deeper and AL/NL only leagues, as he will give you good strikeouts for the amount of your allotted innings he uses.

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