Phillies' rivals join pursuit of Wagner

Phillies' rivals join pursuit of Wagner

PHILADELPHIA -- Sales of chips and dip are likely to spike over the next month in Charlottesville, Va., as free agent Billy Wagner prepares to meet with a slew of baseball executives.

The hard-throwing lefty heads the list of available closers that includes Trevor Hoffman, B.J. Ryan, Bob Wickman, Ugueth Urbina, Tom Gordon, Octavio Dotel and Dustin Hermanson. The Mets became the second team to send an entourage to meet with Wagner, having done so on Wednesday.

New York can't talk contract specifics with Wagner until Nov. 10, but expressed their strong interest through a face-to-face meeting.

"It was a very good meeting," said Wagner. "It was a chance to get to know [Mets GM] Omar Minaya and some people in their front office. They answered a lot of questions on where they thought they were heading. I found it really intriguing and had a great time sitting down with them."

New York's traveling group included Minaya, assistant GM John Ricco and special assistant Tony Bernazard. Wagner's camp was represented by Wagner, his wife, Sarah, and his agent Bean Stringfellow. It was Wagner's first face-to-face meeting with the Mets.

The Mets, who have already contacted Stringfellow twice by phone, are expected to be one of as many as 10 teams vying for Wagner. Another is Detroit, who expressed a strong interest and are believed to be setting up a meeting. The Tigers recently hired Jim Leyland and are planning to spend money to bring in key free agents. They brought in Troy Percival last season, but he suffered an injury.

Wagner is also a fan of new Tigers' third base coach Gene Lamont from when the two were together in Houston. Other interest will likely come from Boston, Baltimore, Los Angeles, and both Chicago teams.

But it was all about the Mets this week, who came prepared with everything but a blank check, which could arrive on Nov. 10.

"What impressed me about the Mets was they know exactly what they need and I felt like I was a priority," Wagner said. "They answered some concerns that my wife and I had."

Wagner said he's planning to visit New York City in the next few weeks, possibly look at some neighborhoods, and maybe see a musical like "Wicked" or "Avenue Q." His goal is to check out every city which merits serious consideration, because his family's comfort is priority one.

"Every team I talk to is going to know that," he said. "My wife and family has to be comfortable and have to be able to enjoy where we're going to be. We're looking long term, and we're taking our time. Before we make any decision, I want my wife and family to be comfortable."

Is Wagner a New York guy?

"Am I a Philadelphia guy?" he said, joking with his thick Virginia drawl. "I'm a baseball player."

The Phillies hope this baseball player will wear red pinstripes for this next few seasons, and Wagner said he's not ruling that out. Philadelphia doesn't plan to let him go without a fight, especially not to a National League East rival.

A group led by team president David Montgomery and assistant GM Ruben Amaro Jr. met with Wagner last month, and later came back with a second offer. That offer was believed to be closer to the $27 million to $30 million and three guaranteed seasons that Wagner is seeking. Wagner appreciated the second proposal, but said he intended to test free agency.

New general manager Pat Gillick called Wagner on Wednesday -- his first day on the job -- and will visit him shortly after next week's GM's meetings. Manager Charlie Manuel also spoke to Wagner.

"I was very encouraged," Manuel said. "He said he'd like to come back."

The 34-year-old Wagner saved 38 games and posted a 1.51 ERA for the Phillies in 2005, and remains the team's top offseason priority.

"This thing is headed in the right direction, and he's a big part of it," Gillick said on Wednesday.

While Wagner said he would have been excited if Gerry Hunsicker got the Phillies' GM job, he was happy to hear about Gillick.

"It was a great move to get Pat Gillick," he said. "As long as they let him do what needs to be done, I think he'll get it done."

Gillick is starting from scratch with Wagner, which could be a good thing since the sides were far apart during the season. So far apart that Wagner is on the verge of becoming a free agent.

"There's no doubt they had their opportunity during the season," Wagner said. "They waited and now they don't have sole possession. Now they'll have to wait and see what everybody is going to do. It's going to come down to who's got the better team, what direction they want to go and who's closer to a championship.

"A lot of people are calling. A lot of things will happen in the next few weeks."

Ken Mandel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.