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Free Agent Profile: Eric Gagne

Eric Gagne

This profile will be considerably different from almost all of the one’s I’ll write this offseason, because the player has not appeared in many games for a couple of years. 

Eric Gagne was once the best closer in baseball.  If it was Gagne time in LA, you knew the Dodgers were on their way to victory.  Then, his pitching elbow started letting him down.  The recovery process was long, tedious, and required several complex surgeries, including a risky one to remove a nerve.  As if that weren’t enough, Gagne was diagnosed with 2 herniated disks in his back, and forced to miss the entire 2006 season.  Now, Eric Gagne has been sent out the door by the Dodgers front office, making him a free agent with infinite upside, and a potential steal for a team looking for a closer. 

Since Gagne pitched just 2 innings in 2006 and only 13 in 2005, I’ll ignore those statistics and move directly to his career numbers, before the elbow woes derailed him.  Gagne’s career started in 1999, and for the first 3 seasons of it, he was a starter.  Gagne failed miserably at that role, recording a 5.15ERA in 2000 and a 4.75ERA in 2001.  Some scouts however, saw Gagne’s potential as a reliever, particularly as a 9th inning stopper.  The Dodgers soon gave the Canadian a shot in that role, and boy did it pay off. 

In 2002, Gagne was unhittable.  He gave up just 55 hits in 82.1 innings, and walked just 16 batters for an unbelievable WHIP of 0.86.  Gagne also recorded a whopping 52 saves and struck-out 114 in the 82.1 innings he pitched, on his way to a paltry 1.97ERA.  If you thought that was special, check out Gagne’s 2003 numbers…

2003 was Gagne’s best season, and that’s saying quite a bit, if you consider his dominance in 2002.  Gagne won the Cy Young Award in 2003 and he very much deserved it, with his 55 saves, 1.20ERA, and eye-popping 0.69WHIP.  37 hits and 20 walks was all Gagne allowed opposing hitters in the 82.1 innings he pitched in 2003, and he K’d 137 in that same stretch.  His 2003 season might have been the best ever by an MLB closer. 

Gagne slowed down a little in 2004, but he was still dominant.  Saving 45 games and recording a 2.19ERA can hardly be considered an off-year for a closer, but compared to his 2002-3 statistics, that’s exactly what 2004 was.  Gagne still recorded a miniscule 0.91WHIP and struck-out 114 batters, on his way to a third consecutive spectacular year.  

His 3-year stretch from 2002-4 is considered one of the best in MLB history for a pitcher.  It was an amazing turnaround from Gagne’s first three years, in which he was pitching erratically in virtual anonymity.  The 39th round pick by the Chicago White Sox in 1994 was paying-off in a big way, for the Dodgers.  The tide would soon turn however, and it turned in the form of a mostrous tidal wave for Eric Gagne.

On June 21, 2005, the Dodgers announced that Eric Gagne would undergo Tommy John surgery to repare his throwing elbow, and that he would miss the rest of the season.  Little did LA fans know that Gagne would be out for much longer than that.  It could have been predicted though, because Gagne had already had a Tommy John procedure in 1997; it was actually amazing, according to some, that he could come back after two invasive elbow surgeries.  The TJ procedure became much simpler, because surgeons quickly discovered the real cause of Gagne’s pain was a trapped nerve, which they cured with minimal damage.  Gagne would still have to miss the rest of the 2005 season, but the Dodger faithful had reason to celebrate. 

Gagne rehabbed his elbow through the Winter and into the Spring of 2006, hoping to come back to baseball by pitching for Canada in the World Baseball Classic.  He decided however, to make sure he was healthy and finish Spring Training, which he did, pitching rather successfully.  Then, pain returned to Gagne’s throwing elbow, forcing doctors to remove the nerve that had previously become entrapped, and prolonging Gagne’s recovery for at least another 2-3 months.  Gagne finally returned to the mound on June 3, and he pitched well in his 2 appearances for the Dodgers.  Then, Gagne’s 2006 season was destroyed by two separate injuries.  One was that the pain in his elbow had returned, but the other was even more serious — Gagne was diagnosed with herniated disks in his back, and had to go under the knife again, to fix that problem; the surgery would cost him the rest of the year. 

Now, Gagne is looking for a job, claiming that he is finally healthy.  He can throw without pain, his back has returned to normal, and Gagne believes that his “stuff” has not suffered because of the injuries that caused his long and grueling comeback to baseball.  There will be plenty of suitors to be sure, for Gagne, but whether he’ll be the biggest steal of the offseason or a lemon won’t be known until he makes his debut in April. 

Which team will take a chance on Eric Gagne?

While it’s unlikely his agent’s phone will be ringing non-stop with contract offers, Eric Gagne will be a valuable free agent commodity, if only because of his prior dominance.  Gagne is also the only proven closer on the free agent market, with his best competitor likely being Joe Borowski.  That means teams needing a closer will likely take a chance on Gagne, and hope he can recover, at least partially, to his unbelievable prior form.  Those teams are the San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox, Texas Rangers, Houston Astros, and Chicago Cubs.  Did you notice that this list looks very similar to the list of clubs desperately needing help at the end of the ‘pen?  Well, that’s far from a coincidence. 

My prediction: Gagne will sign with the Cubs, agreeing to a 3year deal laden with incentives and a salary in the 5-7M range per season depending on his success. 

Stats prediction: Gagne will recover some of his stuff and save 33-35 games, while recording a 2.50ERA and a 1.00WHIP.  He’ll pitch roughly 65 innings and strike-out 65-70 batters. 

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Tomorrow’s Profile: Aubrey Huff

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Trivia Time!

Yesterday’s question was (see — Free Agent Profile: Juan Pierre)…

The Florida Marlins traded Juan Pierre to the Chicago Cubs last Winter for 3 young pitchers.  Can you name them?

The correct answer…

Juan Pierre went to the Cubs for Sergio Mitre, Ricky Nolasco, and Renyel Pinto, all of whom had successful rookie seasons for the Florida Marlins. 

Today’s question is…

When Gagne won the Cy Young Award for his efforts in 2003, he became the second Canadian in MLB history to win the prestigious award.  Who was the first?

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This week’s profiles:

Wednesday: Aubrey Huff

Thursday: Mark Mulder

Friday: Mark Loretta

Saturday: Andy Pettitte

Sunday: Gary Matthews Jr.

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