Dodgers, Gagne agree to $19M contract

LOS ANGELES -- Former Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne avoided another difficult salary arbitration hearing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, agreeing Tuesday to a $19 million, two-year contract.

Gagne and the Dodgers agreed to the deal just before they were
scheduled to exchange figures in salary arbitration.

"We wanted to do everything we could to try to keep him,"
Dodgers general manager Paul DePodesta said. "I don't like to be
put in a position where we're pitted against one of our players."

Gagne will get $8 million this year and $10 million in 2006. Los
Angeles has a $12 million option for 2007 with a $1 million buyout,
but Gagne has the right to void the option and become a free agent.
If he voids the option, he would receive a buyout of $250,000 to $1
million, depending on games finished the next two years.

A year ago, Gagne was awarded $5 million by a panel of three
arbitrators rather than his $8 million request. The right-hander
won the NL Cy Young Award in 2003.

"I remember telling him at the time that this was a process
we'd like to avoid in the future," said DePodesta, who became GM
last February. "They're very happy we were able to do that."

Gagne had a 7-3 record with a 2.19 ERA last season. He had 45
saves in 70 games, struck out 114 and walked 22.

He pitched three innings in two games of the NL Division Series,
which the Dodgers lost to St. Louis 3-1. It was the team's first
postseason appearance since 1996.

"We think he's truly dominant," DePodesta said. "He's not a
guy who's as replaceable as some of the other guys are. He affects
the games that we're supposed to win."

Reaching a deal with Gagne could help the Dodgers pacify fans
angry about some of the team's other offseason moves.

The Dodgers lost offensive punch when they failed to re-sign
free agent Adrian Beltre and traded outfielder Shawn Green to
Arizona. Beltre left for Seattle after a career season. The team
also cut loose outfielder Steve Finley, pitcher Jose Lima and
second baseman Alex Cora.

A day earlier, Los Angeles reached a $9.9 million, three-year
agreement with Gold Glove shortstop Cesar Izturis.

"We talked a lot about going through all this turmoil in order
to create stability," DePodesta said. "Hopefully, our actions are
backing up our words and our fans will see that."

Gagne will close for a starting rotation that includes newcomer
Derek Lowe, Odalis Perez, Jeff Weaver and Brad Penny, who was
sidelined with a nerve problem in his pitching arm the last two
months of the season.

The Dodgers swapped figures with Penny on Tuesday. He asked for
$5.7 million and the team offered $4.7 million.

"Both sides are very adament that this ought not to go to a
hearing room," DePodesta said. "I don't think anyone wins in the
end if in fact we do go."