Wells leaning toward retirement, but will file

David Wells will spend much of this month in Africa hunting lions, leopards and water buffalo on safari with a bow and arrow.

Wells Wells

He still maintains that he's finished as a professional baseball player. But in the event he changes his mind, he's leaving himself the necessary wiggle room.

Agent Gregg Clifton said Wells will file for free agency sometime between now and Major League Baseball's Nov. 11 deadline, just in case he decides to return in 2007 for a 21st big-league season.

"He keeps telling me he's probably retiring," Clifton said. "But in an effort to keep his options open, he'll be filing before the deadline."

Wells, 42, has a career record of 230-148 with Toronto, Detroit, Cincinnati, Baltimore, the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Boston and San Diego. He's a three-time All-Star and pitched a perfect game for New York in May 1998.

He went 3-5 with a 4.42 ERA in 13 starts for the Red Sox and Padres this season while struggling with knee problems.

In September, Wells refused to use the word "retirement" in an interview with ESPN.com. He half-jokingly compared himself to long-time San Diego and Miami linebacker Junior Seau, who briefly retired this year only to come back with the New England Patriots.

"I'm not retiring," Wells said. "I'm graduating."

Wells said at the time he wanted to spend more time with his family and enjoy off-field pursuits such as golf, hunting, surfing, and helping to run the 1,300-acre ranch in Michigan he owns with former big leaguer Kirk Gibson.

The free-spirited Wells called Clifton on Tuesday before catching a flight from Evansville, Ind., to London. From there, he planned to fly to Cairo, Egypt, then Tanzania before taking a small plane into the bush for his hunting excursion.

Clifton said that Wells' health is likely to determine whether he'll reconsider his retirement plans in the spring.

"I think he'll start to gear up in January as he would normally do," Clifton said. "If his knee is really bothering him, he'll say, 'The heck with it.' If he starts to gear up and says, 'You know, I feel pretty good,' then I think he has a shot at playing.

"His mind and his heart might want to play. But I think he's getting to a point now where his brain is listening to his body. That's the big variable."

Jerry Crasnick covers baseball for ESPN Insider.