Eric Gagne Free to Tear Up the Can-Am League…

…because the Dodgers have released him.

Former Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne asked for and was given his release by the Dodgers on Sunday night, ending a brief attempt to restart his career with his original team.

“Both sides thought at this juncture it was in Eric’s best interest to see if he can find another opportunity, rather than wait until later in spring or into April if he wants to continue to pitch,” said general manager Ned Colletti. “It’s better that he has a couple weeks to go.”

Gagne, 34, had accepted a Minor League assignment earlier this month, acknowledging that he needed more work to bring his game back to the Major League level after two years of shoulder problems that included spending last year in independent ball.

If there’s a surprise here, its that Gagne had agreed to go to the minors last week, and had pitched in just one (intrasquad!) game since then. Despite Colletti’s comments, I can’t imagine that word got to him that any other team was interested in giving him a shot, so it’s more than likely that Gagne realized his chances of making it back to the bigs were miniscule at best, and decided he had better things to do than ride buses around the southwest all summer.

I didn’t mind giving him a shot in camp, but personally I’m glad this is over before the season starts. We’ll always have 2003*, Eric.

(Hey, hopefully Ramon Troncoso can get #38 back!)

Game Over, Indeed

From the official Dodgers twitter:

Eric Gagne reassigned to Minor League camp, Kenley Jansen & Scott Elbert also optioned

We knew about Jansen yesterday, and no one can really be surprised about Gagne. How many articles have I linked to in the last few days discussing how lousy he’s been? The only question is will he really go to Albuquerque or ask for his release. Based on his comments previously, I think he will go to AAA. If he doesn’t, his career is basically over. If it’s not already. (Update: Gagne has agreed to go to AAA.)

As for Elbert, I’m not completely surprised that he won’t be making the Opening Day roster, but I am very surprised that they sent him down so quickly. For a guy who was on the playoff roster last year, you’d have thought they’d at least get him some more MLB (well, “spring training MLB”) innings before shipping him out – especially since Hong-Chih Kuo’s elbow is acting up and George Sherrill has had some tweaks as well, so the lefty situation in the bullpen is up in the air. Still, we’ll almost certainly be seeing Elbert later in the year.

In a separate tweet, the club also notes that Rule 5 pick Armando Zerpa was reclaimed by Boston. We’ve heard some good things about fellow Rule 5 guy Carlos Monasterios, but I’ve heard almost zero about Zerpa this year, so I was wondering how long he’d really stick around. He only pitched 1.1 innings this spring anyway.

Eric Gagne Gets Another Shot

As you’ve no doubt heard by now in many other places, former hero Eric Gagne is returning to the Dodgers on a minor-league deal. For obvious reasons, this minor-league deal stands out just a bit from among the John Koronkas, Luis Ayalas, and Scott Dohmanns we’ve seen so far this winter.

For a non-guaranteed minor-league deal to a pitcher who’s unlikely to ever see a big-league mound again, there’s actually a lot to think about here. I tend to think that he’s completely and totally done, though since the Rockies were offering a deal as well, it’s possible that this isn’t just a publicity stunt. On the other hand, Jim Tracy does have a hard-on for his former Dodger players, even offering the corpse of Paul LoDuca a contract for 2010.

Gagne can say all he wants about how his arm feels better than it has in years, but the fact remains that in 2009 he gave up more than a hit per inning and struck out barely more than one man every other inning. Think about how unimpressive that is, and then remember that this took place in the unaffiliated Canadian-American League. If you’re wondering about the skill level of the Can-Am League, note that just one other member of Gagne’s Quebec squad ever played in the major leagues, and even that was only the 68 unimpressive games spread over three season by catcher Pete LaForest, also a Canadian native. Gagne’s last trip to the majors was 50 awful games for the 2008 Brewers, when he put up a 5.44 ERA while walking 4.3/9.

With most guys, you’d say “he’s cooked,” but with Gagne there’s more to it. Without getting too deep into that conversation, he was named in the Mitchell Report and has all but admitted to PED use.  As someone who was a mediocre pitcher who became a star for a short time, then completely broke down with injuries, he sure fits the profile. The point here isn’t to point fingers or rehash the past; just that there’s a difference between “he’s lost it” and “did he ever really have it in the first place?” If it’s the latter – and his performance in the Can-Am League last year isn’t a good sign – then his time in camp is going to be limited.

There’s also the issue of how much of a chance he’s really going to have to make the club. Clearly, the Dodger bullpen is stacked. Barring injury, the top 5 are set (Broxton, Sherrill, Kuo, Belisario, Troncoso), and with the Dodgers likely to take 12 pitchers, that leaves 2 more spots, but there’s thousands of pitchers ahead of Gagne. Based on last year, Jeff Weaver likely has the inside track to one, and I’d be shocked if the other didn’t go to one of the runners-up to the 5th starter job, particularly James McDonald if he’s not in the rotation. It’s not hard to see Scott Elbert in the mix, or Charlie Haeger if they don’t want to expose him to waivers, or the two Rule 5 guys, plus young guys on their way up (Josh Lindblom) or fallen guys trying to make it back (Cory Wade). The chances of Gagne breaking through that, to me, seem minimal at best.

But there are some positives here. As always, there’s the normal NRI caveat of “there’s no risk involved”, so there’s no complaints about finances. And let’s say he does make the club. It would almost certainly be as the last man out of the bullpen, which would not only be an amazing turn from his status in his previous stint in LA, it would raise an interesting question:

Can you really enter to Guns N’ Roses when you’re running to the mound in the 6th inning?

I think I’d pay double just to see that. Imagine the situation: the bullpen doors swing open, the first chords of “Welcome to the Jungle” blare, Gagne jogs out… and everyone looks at him like he’s a douche because the Dodgers are down 7-2 with 4 innings left.

If he’s on the club, what’s also going to happen is we’re going to be put in a situation both hilarious and sad: the first time Jonathan Broxton blows a save, or even has slight difficulty in converting one, the casual fans are going to start calling for Gagne to get his old job back, which would be ridiculous. But you know it as well as I do – that would happen, and it would just be another front in the battle between educated fans and the “Juan Pierre was the 2009 MVP!!” crowd.

I’ll leave you with one last thought on this, though. Each year for the last few years, the Dodgers have picked up an old-and-busted pitcher off the scrap heap who ends up contributing, and for the last three years it’s been former Dodgers. Hell, in 2009 I even came up with an award and gave it to Jeff Weaver. In 2008, it was Chan Ho Park, 2007 was Rudy Seanez (both former Dodgers), and 2006 was Aaron Sele.

Unless you’re hitching your ride to the Russ Ortiz bandwagon, there’s no good candidate for this year’s crown, and no former Dodgers in the running unless we want to bend the rules and let Weaver repeat. Every year, the fates align to revive one deceased pitcher’s career in LA; why couldn’t it be Gagne this year?

(Right. And maybe I’m a Chinese jet pilot.)

Dodgers of the Decade: Closer

1%! Paul Quantrill edges out Guillermo Mota by 1%! That’s just three votes.

Dodgers of the Decade team:
C: Russell Martin (68%)
1B: James Loney (62%)
2B: Jeff Kent (88%)
3B: Adrian Beltre (80%)
SS: Rafael Furcal (87%)
LF: Gary Sheffield (62%)
CF: Matt Kemp (94%)
RF: Shawn Green (79%)
LH starter: Clayton Kershaw (56%)
RH starter: Kevin Brown (42%)
LH reliever: Hong-Chih Kuo (57%)
RH reliever: Paul Quantrill (33%)

Well, here’s where the real fun begins, as we choose the last player for our All-Decade team. The Dodgers have had four outstanding closers in the 2000s, and the latter three are in some ways historically good. How can you even choose? Also, Yhency Brazoban!

Did you know that 28 different pitchers recorded a save for the Dodgers in the last ten years? With apologies to Alan Mills, Jesse Orosco, and Steve Schmoll, here’s the five guys who managed at least 20 total saves.

Closer

Eric Gagne (293 games, 2000-06)
Dodger stats: 24-20, 161 saves, 3.34 ERA, 121 ERA+, .650 OPS against
WAR: 10.6

Takashi Saito (180 games, 2006-08)
Dodger stats: 12-7, 81 saves, 1.95 ERA, 226 ERA+, .511 OPS against
WAR: 8.2

Jonathan Broxton (133 games, 2005-09)
Dodger stats: 19-12, 55 saves, 2.92 ERA, 146 ERA+, .591 OPS against
WAR: 6.1

Jeff Shaw (117 games, 2000-01)
Dodger stats: 6-9, 70 saves, 3.89 ERA, 106 ERA+, .710 OPS against
WAR: 1.5

Yhency Brazoban (116 games, 2004-08)
Dodger stats: 10-12, 21 saves, 4.70 ERA, 88 ERA+, .778 OPS against
WAR: -0.8

Top three seasons
4.3 WAR Gagne, 2003
3.7 WAR Saito, 2007
3.2 WAR Gagne, 2002

Now that’s a tough choice. Gagne obviously had what may have been the most dominating stretch by a closer in history, but we also are pretty sure how exactly he was able to pull that off. Saito came out of nowhere and only lasted just more than two years as the closer, but it’s hard to ignore how dominating he was. And Broxton currently holds the Dodger record in K/9. Imagine if Gagne had been healthy in 2006? You could have had all three of them in the same bullpen.

Chew on this one through the weekend, friends, as MSTI is out of town.

With the game on the line, who’s your man of the decade?

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