Colletti brings back Gagne
GM recalls a once-dominant closer, who wants final chance
PHOENIX -- There are plenty of reasons why the Dodgers wouldn't have signed Eric Gagne, but general manager Ned Colletti gave a pretty good reason why he did anyway."I watched him from the other side compete with incredible toughness and I haven't forgotten that," Colletti said Friday after the club officially announced the signing of the 2003 Cy Young Award winner to a Minor League contract. "That's not something you usually lose." Gagne, 34, apparently has lost the fastball that occasionally touched 100 mph, but assistant general manager Logan White told Colletti he thought Gagne would be "competitive" after watching him throw earlier this month. Toughness was never in doubt with Gagne. But there were the elbow and back operations, then the messy inclusion in the Mitchell Report over performance-enhancing drug use, then a shoulder injury. Gagne was released last spring by the Milwaukee Brewers and surfaced playing independent ball in Canada. If he makes the big league club, he will receive a $500,000 salary with another $500,000 possible in performance bonuses. If he doesn't make the team, he has an escape clause. The $500,000 salary is 95 percent less than the $10 million Gagne made in his final season with the Dodgers. But Gagne wanted back into the Major Leagues and wanted it to be with his original team. Before there were any contract negotiations, however, Colletti and Gagne met last week in Arizona for a half hour. "We hadn't talked since '06 and I thought before we entered into anything I should see what his thoughts were, his expectations and I wanted him to know our expectations, how the club had changed," said Colletti. And what did he learn from the meeting? "I think he really wants the opportunity to see where he's at," Colletti said. "He believes he can help our club, our pitching staff and he believes with his experience and accomplishments that he can be a positive for the younger relievers. With a few exceptions, we still have a young bullpen. In the right environment, he's somebody who can help." Colletti said Gagne's inclusion in the Mitchell Report was not a factor. "He's not the first player to sign a contract after being in the Mitchell Report and this also isn't his first team since," he said. Gagne also has had stops in Texas, Boston and Milwaukee since the "Game Over" glory days, when he was the greatest closer in Dodgers history and a fan favorite, a three-time All-Star and holder of baseball's all-time record of 84 consecutive save conversions. But his career spiraled downward beginning with elbow surgery in 2005, then another elbow operation and back surgery in 2006, after which he left the Dodgers as a free agent. In 2007 Gagne was named in the Mitchell Report. That 2006 season, Gagne's last as a Dodger, was Colletti's first. "I saw him pitch two innings," said Colletti. "One of my biggest disappointments is not having him on the club when he was at his best. I was on the other side, and I've never seen anybody better. It wasn't just the power fastball that made him great. He had a variety of pitches, the breaking ball, a great changeup and the fastball in the high-90s. And, of course, the competitiveness." Last year after rehabbing a slightly torn rotator cuff, the native Canadian played for the Quebec Capitales of the independent Can-Am League as a starting pitcher/coach. In 17 starts, he went 6-6 with a 4.65 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 102 2/3 innings. Gagne originally was a starter for the Dodgers before moving to the bullpen in 2002. Living in Arizona, Gagne worked out over the winter with Dodgers catcher and fellow Canadian Russell Martin. Now, can Gagne go from Indy ball to make the cut for the Dodgers' bullpen, one of the deepest in the league? Jonathan Broxton is the All-Star closer, former Orioles closer George Sherrill sets up, Ronald Belisario and Hong-Chih Kuo follow them with Ramon Troncoso now established in middle relief and Jeff Weaver the most likely swingman. That leaves maybe one spot up for grabs and about a dozen arms against which Gagne will compete. What are the chances? "It's too early to tell," said Colletti. "But you don't walk away from the opportunity to have somebody who has been really successful see where they're at. It would be shortsighted if you don't give people like that a chance. The bullpen is one of our stronger areas, but you have no idea what can happen over the next seven weeks, who gets hurt, who has lost it somewhere along the line. I'd rather have choices to make."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.