What does a team do when it's just lost one of the best closers in history? With Billy Wagner headed up the N.J. Turnpike, the Phillies are turning their attention to a reliever they've coveted for years -- Tom Gordon.
The Phillies have stepped up their efforts to sign Gordon in recent days, according to two sources who have spoken with them. What is still unclear is whether they are willing to give Gordon the three-year contract he is looking for at age 38.
It's believed the Phillies have an offer on the table for Gordon, but indications are that it's for less than three years. And GM Pat Gillick expressed reluctance Monday to give contracts that long to 38-year-old pitchers like Gordon and Trevor Hoffman, who have now moved to the top of the free-agent closer heap.
During a farewell-to-Wagner conference call, Gillick seemed to express a longing for the days when pitchers in their late 30s got one-year contracts, or one-year deals with an option. But "your actions are dictated by the market," he conceded.
And this market is "driving up the value of older pitchers on the market," he said. "So I wouldn't be surprised to see somebody that age get two years and an option, or possibly three years."
In fact, that somebody might just get that deal from the Phillies. They've kicked the tires on nearly all the available closers -- from Gordon and Hoffman to Bob Wickman and Kyle Farnsworth. But every indication is that they've been the most aggressive team in the market in pursuit of Gordon, whom they've tried to sign on two previous occasions.
Gordon -- who spent the last two seasons as Mariano Rivera's primary set-up man in the Bronx -- hasn't been a full-time closer since 2001. But aside from saves, his stats the last two years were as close to Wagner's as any free agent out there.
Opposing hitters batted .180 against Gordon in 2004 and .203 in 2005, with microscopic on-base percentages of .237 and .272, respectively. That's not quite up there with Wagner's .181 and .165 batting averages against, and .218 and .229 on-base percentages against in '04 and '05. But at this point, the Phillies can't be too picky.
So even if they go to a third year on Gordon, a possibility they're believed to be mulling, the price tag -- which could land in the neighborhood of $15 million for three years -- would still be about half of what they offered Wagner.
And since the Phillies need to add set-up men in addition to a closer, that would free up money to reel in both. And the Phillies are also actively chasing set-up men. They would have been interested in Gordon regardless of whether they signed Wagner. And they made a run at Bobby Howry before he agreed to a three-year, $13 million deal with the Cubs.
They're now believed to be homing in on deals with Wagner's predecessor with the Mets, Braden Looper, and former Brewers right-hander Rafael Santana -- both of whom would be used to set up.
But the top priority, Gillick said, is a proven closer -- especially now.
"You'd rather have ... someone who has done it," he said. "So certainly, you've got to have somebody who can handle that situation. If you're talking about a club that is out of contention, maybe they can take a chance on a young guy. But it's different for a team that's trying to contend."
Jayson Stark is a senior writer for ESPN.com.