Wagner says he'll retire after '10
Southpaw closer 13 saves shy of 400 for his career
ATLANTA -- Entering Spring Training, there was already reason to wonder if Billy Wagner would call it quits if he set the Major League record for saves recorded by a left-handed pitcher.
But after notching his 387th career save in the 4-2 win the Braves claimed over the Astros on Friday night, Wagner provided clear indication that he entered this year with full knowledge that, regardless of what transpires, this will be the final season of his successful career.
"In 16 seasons, I've had a lot of good times and met a lot of good people," Wagner said. "I think you always miss the competition and camaraderie in your clubhouse. I've enjoyed a lot of people and done a lot of great things. Now, it's time to just share with everybody else."
Whether Wagner nears John Franco's record of 424 career saves by a lefty or simply becomes the fifth pitcher to notch at least 400 saves, he plans to spend next summer with his wife, Sarah, and their four children in his rural hometown, Crozet, Va.
"My kids are getting older, and it's time to have another chapter in my life," Wagner said. "It's with my kids and my family."
When Wagner arrived at Turner Field on Friday afternoon, he approached Braves manager Bobby Cox to inform him of his decision. The 38-year-old closer said the timing of his decision had nothing to do with the fact that the Braves were in the midst of a nine-game losing streak or that he had totaled just two save opportunities in the season's first 22 games.
"I think he should know what my plans are and what I'm thinking," Wagner said. "There's no secrets. I don't want [Braves general manager Frank Wren] and those guys getting down the road to where they need to make a decision and they need to know where I'm at. That helps the organization out and helps them make an easier decision when they have to make one.
"I don't want to catch the organization by surprise. So I told Bobby, 'That's it for me, and it's time to go fishing.'"
While watching Wagner combine to make 17 appearances for the Mets and Red Sox after returning from Tommy John surgery last year, the Braves felt comfortable signing him to a one-year, $6.75 million contract in December. The deal includes a $6.5 million club option that would vest if he makes 50 appearances this season.
When asked why he would even include this option, which includes a $250,000 buyout, Wagner said his agent, Bean Stringfellow, told him that he should provide some insurance in the event that he decided to return for a 17th Major League season.
"That was my agent," Wagner said. "That didn't have anything to do with me. My agent knew that we were thinking about retiring in the offseason. I said no to a two-year [deal], and he said you should get an option just in case. That's all his doing."
Wagner began his career with the Astros in 1995 and moved into the closer's role two years later. On the way to recording the second-most saves ever by a left-handed pitcher, he has also enjoyed successful multiyear stints with the Mets and Phillies.
This season provided Wagner an opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream that he developed during those days when he and his grandparents would watch the Braves on TBS.
While converting two of his three save opportunities and allowing just two earned runs and three hits in the eight innings he has pitched this year, Wagner has also provided indication that his talented left arm is still capable of producing a few more solid seasons.
But as Wagner prepared to exit Turner Field on Friday night, he made it clear that he will be able to walk away at the end of this season without any regrets.
"I think it's just right for me and my family," Wagner said. "I would like to be able to go out and be healthy and just enjoy everything that comes with that final season."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.