Billy Wagner will retire at the end of this season, the 38-year-old closer told Braves manager Bobby Cox on Friday.
Wagner, who is sixth all-time in saves with 387, wanted to reach 400 career saves and has it plainly in his sights. But with or without that mark, and whether he comes close to John Franco’s saves record for a lefthander at 424 , he’ll call it quits at the end of the 2010 season. He said he will not play out his $6.5 million option for next season, which automatically vests if he finishes 50 games.
He wants to spend more time with his family.
“I still like the competition, that’s why I do it,” said Wagner, who turns 39 on July 25. “I like going out and winning, that still drives me. But being home with them last year, I enjoyed it. There’s so much more to offer them at this age, and I need to be home.”
Wagner and his wife Sarah have three sons and a daughter: Will 11, Jeremy 9, Olivia 6, Cason 3. They live on a farm in Crozet, Virginia near Charlottesville. He got a chance to spend more time at home with them last season while he was rehabilitating from September 2008 elbow reconstruction surgery.
Wagner made his comeback with the Mets last year and was then was traded to the Red Sox for a playoff run. He thought about retiring at the end of last season but reconsidered. He was planning to pitch one more year, even as he signed a one year, $7 million contract with the Braves with an option for 2011.
“I told my kids I’d play one more year and that’s it, and the Braves just threw in the option,” Wagner said.
Wagner has only two saves in three opportunities this season. The Braves’ nine-game losing streak heading into the weekend series with the Astros has limited his opportunities. He’s optimistic the Braves team will turn things around, but becoming only the fifth reliever with 400 saves and trying to catch Franco provide him only targets, not determining factors anymore.
“I wanted a chance at 400, and that’s great,” Wagner said. “I didn’t want to have to chase everything. If it happens this year, great, if not, then so be it. Just try to make this one of those years to really enjoy and have a good time and maybe win a championship along the way. Plus Bobby, he’s always meant a lot to me, growing up. To play my final year and him being his final year – it was the right timing.”
Wagner said Cox told him he thought he had the stuff to continue playing a few more years. Wagner can still hit 97, 98 mph with his fastball.
“He’s had a great career,” Cox said. “Hopefully he can get a whole bunch of saves the rest of the way. I said ‘We’ll go out together, Billy.’”
Wagner earned his second save of the season Friday by preserving the Braves’ 4-2 win over the Astros. He faced just three batters in the ninth despite giving up a walk, by inducing a double play to end the game.