Ryan, Jays close $47M deal

Wagner gets $43 million from Mets as the cost of closers goes up

Baseball

November 29, 2005|By JEFF ZREBIEC | JEFF ZREBIEC,SUN REPORTER

Just hours after the Toronto Blue Jays officially announced the signing of former Orioles All-Star closer B.J. Ryan yesterday, the New York Mets and free-agent reliever Billy Wagner reportedly reached a tentative agreement on a four-year deal worth $43 million.

Ryan's deal, the largest ever for a reliever, will pay him $47 million over five years. That leaves the tally for the two closers at $90 million.

"It's a byproduct of our industry," said Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi on his deal for Ryan, a month from his 30th birthday. "We're darned if we do and darned if we don't. But this is a guy we targeted and went out and got."

Ricciardi is a disciple of Oakland vice president and general manager Billy Beane, whose much-publicized Moneyball philosophy frowned on throwing boatloads of money at closers. As the theory in Michael Lewis' popular book went, closers were overvalued and it was more efficient to "create a closer than to buy one."

Apparently, Ricciardi and New York Mets general manager Omar Minaya, who won over Wagner, disagree.

"If it wasn't us making him the highest-paid reliever in the game, it would have been somebody else," Ricciardi said. "We've lost a lot of one-run games and this gives us an opportunity to say maybe we can win those games now."

Asked yesterday about the amount of money the Blue Jays lavished on Ryan, who had 36 saves this past season in his first as a full-time closer, Orioles executive vice president Mike Flanagan admitted that he was surprised.

"He's obviously somebody we wanted to keep, but at this point, going to that end to keep him would have been a stretch for us," Flanagan said. "We weren't looking for a discount price on him, but we felt that we were going to be able to stay in it to sign him. I am sure other clubs felt that way, too."

As it turns out, no team - not the Orioles and not the Cleveland Indians or Detroit Tigers who were also reportedly interested in Ryan - came close to matching the Blue Jays' offer. Ryan will earn $2 million in 2006 and $5 million in 2007 with a $10 million signing bonus spread over the first two seasons. He will make $10 million a season from 2008 to 2010.

Wagner, who had 38 saves last season for the Phillies and is a four-time All-Star, will receive a little over $10.5 million in each of the next four seasons, a high-ranking baseball official told the Associated Press.

"You can't say you're shocked or surprised that something like this would happen," said new Phillies general manager Pat Gillick, who admitted that the club was uncomfortable giving Wagner, 34, a four-year deal.

The Orioles made Ryan their offseason priority and offered him a three-year deal worth $18 million. They were prepared to go four years for about $26 million, but that still would have fallen far short of the Blue Jays' offer.

At his introductory news conference yesterday, Ryan thanked the Orioles for his personal and professional growth. He was asked if he is worth all the money that the Blue Jays will pay him.

"I don't know," Ryan said. "I guess I'm going to go out on that field and see. When you sign a deal like this, you want to hold up your end of it."

Meanwhile, the Orioles and Phillies are left to sort through the rest of the free-agent closer market that includes San Diego's Trevor Hoffman, Atlanta's Kyle Farnsworth, Florida's Todd Jones and the Yankees' Tom Gordon. The price tag for each will likely increase significantly if Wagner and Ryan are any indication on the premium now being placed on closers.

"I think [the signings] will definitely have an effect on the market," Flanagan said.

Notes -- The Orioles remain in negotiations with Los Angeles Angels free-agent pitcher Paul Byrd. According to industry sources, the Orioles have offered Byrd a two-year deal with an option for a third season believed to be worth $13 million. Declining to discuss any specifics of the negotiations, Bo McKinnis, the pitcher's agent, said that Byrd would enjoy being reunited with Orioles pitching coach Leo Mazzone, who tutored the right-hander during two stints in Atlanta.

Jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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