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Agent pitches Wakefield's return to Sox

MILWAUKEE -- If the Boston Red Sox are looking for depth in the back end of their rotation, agent Barry Meister said Wednesday, he has just the man: Tim Wakefield.

"For me, if you're looking for a fifth starter who can pitch out of the bullpen and effectively give you 20 starts, he's done that in the past," Meister said here at the general managers' meetings. "He knows his role, and sometimes he'll affect hitters for the guy pitching behind him. I think it's a very valuable thing."

Wakefield, 46, is a free agent this season after going 7-8 with a 5.12 ERA in 33 appearances last season, 23 of which were starts. While in quest of his 200th career win, he made seven consecutive starts and a relief appearance without a victory, although in four of those starts, he left with the score tied or the Red Sox ahead. That 18-6 win over Toronto for win No. 200 on Sept. 13 would be his only win after July 24, and he pitched as many as six innings only once in his last seven starts, contributing to the Red Sox's September collapse.

Most of Wakefield's conventional numbers deviated little from the previous two seasons (ERA, walks and whiffs per nine, WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). But there was a significant jump in one of the numbers favored by sabermetricians, something called FIP, or Fielding Independent Percentage. Basically, FIP is a stat that professes to give a more accurate reading of a pitcher's effectiveness, because it measures the things a pitcher can control while applying the league average on balls in play, which a pitcher can't control.

Wakefield's FIP in 2011 was 4.99, the highest it has been in the last seven seasons. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement), meanwhile, was just 0.8, the lowest this decade.

"He's determined to play," Meister said. "His desire is to play in a Red Sox uniform. Hopefully that will be the case. If not, I know he wants to play.

"I think he showed he can still be effective. In the National League, I think he could be extremely effective."

Meister said he has had just one discussion with Sox GM Ben Cherington. "The market hasn't even started to develop for players yet," he said, "so we just agreed to keep the lines of communication open."

"I have great respect for Tim, he's a Red Sox Hall of Famer," Cherington said. "I have great admiration for him as a person. I think we owe it to Tim to present to him exactly what opportunity there will be, if any, for him here. I don't think he's a guy who wants to come back just to come back.''

But Meister said there is no question what Wakefield's preference is.

"He wants to play again," the agent said. "He wants another parade and he wants to win for the Red Sox. He's a Boston guy. He's a member of the community.

"He feels like there's work to do. This is not the way he wanted the year to end and he hopes to be one of the guys in the boat rowing when they win the World Series next year."

Meister disputed any suggestion that Wakefield was preoccupied with his personal goals.

"He wasn't on the mound thinking about his 200th win," he said. "First and foremost he wants to win, and he wants to win for the Red Sox."

Wakefield has made little secret of his desire to break the club record for wins. He has 186. Roger Clemens and Cy Young share the record of 192.

"If for some reason, the [Red Sox] don't feel like he can play, well he's going to go win 15 games somewhere else and show them that once again, they've underestimated him," Meister said to a group of reporters.

That is obvious hyperbole for an agent projecting his client to be a fifth starter making just 20 or so starts. Wakefield has won 15 or more games just four times in 19 seasons, just twice since 1998, the last time when he won 17 games in 2007.

And only one time in modern baseball history (post-1901) has a pitcher 46 years or older won 15 games. That was Phil Niekro, the Hall of Fame knuckleballer who won 16 in 1985 when he was 46. The next season Niekro won 11. The only other pitcher at least as old as Wakefield to register double figures in wins was Jamie Moyer, who won 12 in 2009, when he was 46.

Wakefield has pitched three seasons of 150 innings or more since turning 40. Only 17 pitchers in big league history have done so at least three times. Niekro and Moyer have both done it seven times.

As for talks with the two other Sox veteran free agents, Cherington said he has exchanged voice mails with Jason Varitek and continues to talk with David Ortiz's agent, Fernando Cuza. "There's a pretty good understanding where both sides are," Cherington said. "We're not at the same point yet, but there's a pretty good understanding. I think there's a mutual interest in returning, which doesn't mean he will."

On Wednesday night, Cherington met with Robert Garber, agent for starting pitchers C.J. Wilson and Roy Oswalt.