Gagne agrees to $6M deal with Rangers

Updated: December 12, 2006, 10:11 PM ET
Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Reliever Eric Gagne and the Texas Rangers reached a preliminary agreement Tuesday on a one-year contract worth about $6 million.

Closing Time
Eric Gagne

Injuries have kept the once-dominant Eric Gagne off the mound in recent years:

Categories 2002-'04 2005-'06
SV-Opp 152-158 9-9
IP 247 15 1/3
ERA 1.79 2.35
Opp BA .168 .179

The agreement was confirmed by a person familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made. The deal would allow Gagne to earn about $5 million more in performance bonuses.

While Gagne's deal was still pending, the Rangers finalized and announced a $6 million, one-year contract for center fielder Kenny Lofton, a six-time All-Star, and met with pitcher Mark Mulder.

"It was a case where a team was wanting to win," Lofton said. "That's what I'm all about, and I talked to [new Rangers manager Ron] Washington a lot about it. They said they were going to put the pieces together and if they had a guy like me on the team that the pieces would fall together a little bit quicker. So, I'm like, here we go."

The Rangers will be the 11th team for Lofton, who has been to the playoffs 10 times (with six different teams) in his 15 major league seasons. He is a .299 career hitter with 599 stolen bases. Lofton, who turns 40 in July, hit .301 with 32 stolen bases for Los Angeles Dodgers this year.

Gagne is the 2003 NL Cy Young Award winner and holds the major league record for consecutive saves converted with 84, set over the 2003-04 season. He must pass a physical before his contract can be finalized.

Injuries limited Gagne to 14 games and eight saves in 2005 and two outings with one save this year. The right-hander had surgery in April to remove a nerve from his pitching elbow -- the same arm that required elbow-ligament replacement surgery in 1997. He then had season-ending surgery July 8 to repair a herniated disc in his lower back.

Texas also is negotiating with starter Barry Zito, who like Gagne is represented by Scott Boras. Zito met with Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and owner Tom Hicks in Texas last week and Mulder, his former teammate in Oakland, visited with his agent Tuesday.

Boras has completed several big contracts with Texas in the past, including the $252 million, 10-year deal for Alex Rodriguez in December 2000 and a $65 million, five-year contract for Chan Ho Park the following year. Kevin Millwood, the Rangers' key free-agent pickup last winter, is another Boras client, getting a deal for $60 million over five seasons.

Gagne became the closer for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2002, and saved 52 games with a 1.97 ERA in 77 appearances. The following season, when he won the Cy Young Award, he pitched in the same number of games and innings (82 1/3) and converted all 55 save chances with a 1.20 ERA and 137 strikeouts. He saved 45 more games in 2004.

Gagne was primarily a starter during his first three seasons in Los Angeles, going 11-14 in 48 games (38 starts) from 1999-2001. He became a free agent last month when the Dodgers declined his $12 million option for 2007.

"He's a guy who wants to win as well, so I think with him deciding to come here knowing what they're trying to do here, I think he also wants to be part of a winner," said Lofton, Gagne's teammate in Los Angeles last season.

Akinori Otsuka took over as the Rangers closer last season after Francisco Cordero set a major league record with five blown saves in April. Otsuka converted 32 of 36 saves with a 2.11 ERA in 63 games.

Cordero set the Rangers record with 49 saves in 2004, the same year he was an All-Star. Texas traded him to Milwaukee in July as part of the six-player deal for Carlos Lee, who has since agreed to a $100 million, six-year contract with Houston.

If Gagne takes over as the Rangers closer, Otsuka could move back into the eighth-inning set-up role the Rangers planned for the right-hander when they got him in a trade from San Diego last offseason. Or Texas could move Gagne into that setup role.

Lofton fills the void in the Rangers lineup created when All-Star center fielder and leadoff hitter Gary Matthews Jr. agreed last month to a $50 million, five-year deal with the Los Angeles Angels. Matthews had a career-best year, hitting .302 with 19 home runs and 79 RBI.

"We feel with the signing of Kenny Lofton, we fill both holes with the best player on the market," assistant GM Thad Levine said. "In addition to be an excellent leadoff hitter and an accomplished center fielder, Kenny is a winner. ... He's going to bring an element to our club which we need. He's going to be able to help our younger nucleus of players learn how to be winners."

Levine stood in for Daniels, who was still meeting with Mulder.

Texas has announced final agreements with two other major league free agents this offseason: a $13.5 million, three-year contract with outfielder Frank Catalanotto and a $33.75 million, three-year deal to bring back right-hander Vicente Padilla.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press