2005-12-02 / Sports

Wagner Puts The Close On New York

By Joe McDonald Sports Columnist

By Joe McDonald
Sports Columnist

FLUSHING, NY – If the New York Mets are trying to corner the market on press conferences this winter, they are off to a good start. For the second time in two days, New York introduced another big name acquisition, closer Billy Wagner.

“I’m very excited to be here,” Wagner said. “Anytime you get to see Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran and get to play with these guys, it’s always a plus. I expect great things”

The 34-year old inked a five year, $50 million contract, which has a full no-trade clause for the first four guaranteed seasons. Wagner said the addition of deal moratorium was the key to him finally accepting New York’s money, but he also had help from former catcher Ron Hodges and ex-manager/coach Mike Cubbage, since they are from the same area in Virginia and eased the Wagner family’s worries about New York.

“Cubbage had a lot to do with the influence, because he answered a lot of question I had,” Wagner explained. “He was here for 16 years and getting to pick his brain told me I would do well here.”

The small town Wagner owns an alpaca – a type of llama – farm in Virginia and breeds the hair for commercial purposes. He won’t have the farm during the season, since his main profession is closing the ninth inning at Shea.

“The ownership here has the recourse to do whatever it takes to win and that’s a huge plus,” Wagner said. “That’s why I am here for. I had the opportunity to play against them.”

Manager Willie Randolph is obviously looking forward to calling on Wagner and his 284 career saves next season.

“It strengthens us; he’s a great addition,” Randolph said. “Last year, we had some problems in the bullpen and bringing a! guy like Billy Wagner helps us immensely. We want the best players and Billy brings that.”

Wagner went 4-3 with a 1.51 ERA and 38 saves last season for the Philadelphia Phillies. He said the larger ballpark in Queens wasn’t a big influence, because the home runs he gives up “would be out of any park” and it came down more to money and his former team not coming up big.

Wagner said, “I gave them every opportunity to sign me back. I gave them a three year, $24 million dollar offer at the deadline, so it didn’t surprise me that they didn’t make a substantial offer.”

So it allowed the Mets into the mix and general manager Omar Minaya would not be outdone.

“We knew all along this was the best team in the race and they took charge,” Wagner explained. “They gave me something I couldn’t turn down.”

After Minaya returned from his Thanksgiving holiday in the Dominican Republic on Sunday, he spoke with the closer’s agent Bean Stringfellow about getting the deal done. With the Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox inquiring about the closer, Jeff Wilpon signed off on the deal late Sunday and Wagner accepted it Monday afternoon.

“Growing up, I never thought I would be a Met,” Wagner said. “I am from the country and nine years in the big leagues I learned it’s still 60 feet, six inches from the mound to the plate.”

Notes : Randolph announced first base coach Jerry Manual and bench coach Sandy Alomar, Jr. will be switching roles next season…With two holes filled, Minaya will be looking for some catching help and still has offers on the table to Bengie Molina and Ramon Hernandez.

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