PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Tom Gordon is back to closing – again.

The veteran reliever is going from setting up for Mariano Rivera to replacing Billy Wagner after agreeing to an $18 million, three-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.

The 38-year-old right-hander hasn’t finished games regularly in four years, but the Phillies are convinced he can fill the void created by Wagner’s departure earlier in the week.

“I’m confident Tom will do an excellent job,” Phillies general manager Pat Gillick said Friday.

Gordon gets $4.5 million next year, $7 million in 2007 and $5.5 million in 2008. Philadelphia has a 2009 option $4.5 million with a $1 million buyout.

Gordon has done it all during 17 seasons with six teams. He began his career in Kansas City in 1988 and won 17 games as a starter the following year.

He went back-and-forth from starting to pitching out of the bullpen over the next eight seasons, before becoming a full-time closer with Boston in 1998. Gordon remained a closer for most of the next two years, but hasn’t pitched consistently in that role since 2001 with the Chicago Cubs. He spent the last two seasons with the Yankees as Rivera’s primary setup man.

“From our scouting, he has absolutely no problem,” Gillick said. “We don’t see any decline in his talent.”

Gordon also was negotiating with the Yankees and Cleveland Indians before agreeing to the deal with the Phillies. Gordon’s agreement is pending a physical, and he is likely to take one Saturday.

Gordon had 46 saves and a 2.72 ERA in his best season, 1998 with the Red Sox. He had 12 saves in 66 games with the Chicago White Sox in 2003.

“The market dictated you had to go further than you wanted to go,” Gillick said. “This guy is in great shape. He’s in tremendous condition.”

The Phillies needed a closer after Wagner left this week to accept a $43 million, four-year contract from the New York Mets. They had been interested in free-agent relievers Trevor Hoffman and Kyle Farnsworth, but decided to go with Gordon after Gillick met with him Thursday.

Philadelphia lost Wagner partly because it didn’t want to offer a four-year contract to a 34-year-old reliever. Instead, the Phillies wound up giving a three-year deal to an older pitcher who doesn’t have Wagner’s pedigree.

“You have to have flexibility for the length of the contract and the dollar amount,” Gillick said. “There’s a huge differential in what Wagner’s going to make over four years and what Gordon will make for three.”

Gordon went 5-4 with a 2.57 ERA and two saves for the Yankees last season, striking out 69 batters in 80 2-3 innings. He allowed eight homers, his most since 1997 – when he gave up 10 while splitting the season between Boston’s bullpen and starting rotation.

“Rivera has given him a lot of tips on the mental approach to closing,” Gillick said.

Philadelphia still needs a setup man because it doesn’t plan to re-sign Ugueth Urbina. Ryan Madson, who filled that role before Urbina came to the Phillies last June, could return to that spot. The Phillies added some bullpen depth by agreeing Wednesday to a contract with former Milwaukee right-hander Julio Santana.

“We’re still not satisfied with our pitching,” Gillick said. “That’s an area we need to address.”

Gillick has been very busy since replacing Ed Wade last month.

Last week, Gillick traded slugger Jim Thome to the White Sox for center fielder Aaron Rowand and two prospects. The move cleared the way for NL Rookie of the Year Ryan Howard to play first base every day.

Philadelphia agreed to a deal with infielder Abraham Nunez on Tuesday, and added backup catcher Sal Fasano on Thursday.

Gordon has a 127-115 career record with a 3.93 ERA and 116 saves. He missed the entire 2000 season with an elbow injury, but has pitched with four teams since.

AP Baseball Writer Ronald Blum in New York contributed to this report.

AP-ES-12-02-05 1738EST

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