BOSTON — Billy Wagner is on his way to the Boston Red Sox, leaving the New York Mets for the chance to pitch in a pennant race as a setup man for All-Star closer Jonathan Papelbon.
After a few days of back-and-forth talks about Wagner's future, the depleted Mets traded the left-handed reliever to the Red Sox on Tuesday for two players to be named.
The AL wild-card leaders had claimed Wagner on waivers, and the teams worked out a deal that persuaded Wagner to waive his no-trade clause. Wagner's main motivation, according to agent Bean Stringfellow, was his "overwhelming desire to pitch in a pennant race."
"He woke up and decided he wanted to join a team in the middle of a pennant race to have a chance to pitch in October and to have a chance to get a ring, which he's never done," Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein said. "There were some ups and downs and turns in the decision, but in the end he told us he woke up today and really wanted a chance to win a World Series, and came here for all the right reasons."
Boston agreed not to pick up his $8 million option for next season, Stringfellow said in an e-mail to The Associated Press. The Red Sox can still offer salary arbitration to Wagner in the offseason, Stringfellow said, meaning they would be entitled to draft picks as compensation if he signs elsewhere.
The 38-year-old Wagner will join the team in Boston on Thursday.
Papelbon has 29 saves in 32 opportunities this season, with a 2.04 ERA and 58 strikeouts in 53 innings. He had been protective of his role and publicly lukewarm to the idea of Wagner joining the bullpen, but the 28-year-old righty called Wagner to make him feel welcome and said Tuesday he was not bothered by the acquisition.
"We're excited to have him and hopefully he can help us to win a championship," Papelbon said. "I've watched him through the years. The biggest thing is, he pitches with heart. I love guys like that. I love guys that go out there and wear their heart on their sleeves."
Red Sox reliever Manny Delcarmen, who might see some of his innings go to Wagner, was also supportive.
"Not many pitchers throw near 100 (mph) from the left side," Delcarmen said. "Hopefully he's healthy and I know he can help us. As long as he's healthy and can contribute, I think it's great."
The Red Sox entered the night seven games behind the New York Yankees in the AL East and 1 games up on the Texas Rangers in the wild-card race.
"I'm happy for him to get an opportunity with a team that seems headed to the postseason," Mets manager Jerry Manuel said. "He should do well."
Wagner ranks sixth all-time with 385 career saves, and wants to finish out his career as a closer. He's not likely to get that chance this year with Boston; then again, he hasn't gotten to pitch in the World Series, either.
"He wanted to be part of a pennant race," Mets general manager Omar Minaya said on a conference call. "We were able to get a couple of prospects for him. We felt it was the right thing to do."
Had Wagner rejected the deal, the Mets would have had to pay the nearly $3.5 million left on his contract.
Wagner has pitched two scoreless innings since recently returning from major surgery on his left elbow last September. He had lost his role as the Mets' closer after their offseason acquisition of Francisco Rodriguez.
Epstein said they would not use Wagner in back-to-back games.
"We're realistic," Epstein said. "He's less than a year from Tommy John surgery."
Wagner's contract includes a $1 million buyout for next year. If his option is declined, he can become a free agent in the offseason and sign with any team.
Wagner has said he would like to pass John Franco (424) for the most saves by a left-handed pitcher.
Following a quicker-than-expected return from surgery and rehab, Wagner returned to the injury-ravaged Mets on Thursday night and struck out two in a perfect inning against Atlanta, with his fastball reaching 96 mph.
Wagner struck out two more in a hitless eighth inning Monday against first-place Philadelphia.