At the ripe old age of 38, Wagner has put together an impressive 14-year career in the major leagues. After 782 appearances and 385 saves — sixth-most all time — Wagner has a resume packed with Hall of Fame credentials. As closers go, he's one of the all-time greats. If he wanted to, he could hang it all up right now and walk away.
Maybe he almost did. It's hard to say.
On Tuesday, reports surfaced that Wagner was leaning toward retirement rather than spending his winter trying to catch on with another team.
"Why wouldn't I?" Wagner asked in a New York Post interview that quickly spread across the information superhighway. "I've got nothing else to [accomplish]."
That same day, Wagner's agent, Bean Stringfellow, told MLB.com that he knew nothing of Wagner's thoughts about retirement.
"He has given me no such indication," Stringfellow wrote in a text message. "He and his family will sit down and discuss."
Whom to believe?
The issue got even more complicated on Wednesday afternoon, when Fox's Ken Rosenthal reported that Stringfellow, speaking on Wagner's behalf, had announced Wagner's intention to play next season.
"He wants a ring, and he did not do all that rehab just to quit now," Stringfellow said. "His family supports him fully."
So what's the truth? It's probably that Wagner wants to pitch again, but only if he's still respected in baseball. He wants big money, he wants a contending team, and he wants the chance to close again. And if he can't get all he wants, he's made it clear that he's willing to walk away.
Wagner's original statement was wrong. He does indeed have plenty left to accomplish in baseball — he's only five saves away from matching Dennis Eckersley's mark of 390, which would place him among the top five in baseball history. And from a team standpoint, he's never won a championship ring. Check that — he's never even played in a World Series.
Wagner wants to come back, but only on his own terms. He's already accomplished plenty in baseball, and he only wants to play if he can take his game to the next level.
When you're Billy Wagner, that next level is hard to reach. And he probably can't reach it with the Red Sox.
Wagner made it very clear before he returned this August that he wanted to close in 2010. He told the Washington Post on Aug. 25 that "I don't want to end my career as a setup man," later adding that he'd like to pass 400 saves before he's through. He has a chance to do that, but not in Boston — that would require the Red Sox to not only trade Jonathan Papelbon, but also stunt the development of Daniel Bard, a big-time rising star in the Red Sox' bullpen.
The Red Sox will be fine without Wagner. Wagner was great during his short stay here, but the Sox can fall back on a wealth of bullpen talent that includes Papelbon, Bard, likely Takashi Saito, and possibly several more quality arms if the Red Sox should choose to re-sign them. As good as Wagner is, the Red Sox shouldn't bend over backward to meet his demands.
Eventually, Wagner will catch on somewhere, and he'll probably have blazed past 400 saves by the time all's said and done. Whether his agent knows it or not, Wagner is likely far from retiring. He's still got a lot to play for.