Rangers add Gagne to bullpen mix as new closer

Updated: December 19, 2006, 7:05 PM ET
Associated Press

ARLINGTON, Texas -- Now that the Texas Rangers have Eric Gagne as their new closer, they can concentrate on trying to get another former Cy Young Award winner for their rotation.

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

Texas finalized a $6 million, one-year contract Tuesday after an extensive physical for Gagne, one of the most dominant closers before injuries the past two seasons.

"I have no doubt in my mind I'll be healthy on the mound all year. I haven't felt this good for two or 2½ years," Gagne said. "I know I haven't lost anything. ... I still know how to pitch. It's just a matter of getting back on the mound."

Before he was hurt and pitched only 16 games the past two seasons, Gagne converted a major league-record 84 consecutive saves from August 2002 to July 2004. The hard-throwing right-hander had 152 saves from 2002-04, including all 55 chances in 2003, when he had a 1.20 ERA and was the NL Cy Young winner.

"There is some risk there. If you get past that and he's healthy, which we think he is, and he maximizes his ability, you didn't just add another piece, you added a premium part," Rangers general manager Jon Daniels said. "It's a risk well worth taking."

Gagne's 96 percent career save percentage (161-of-167) is the highest in major league history for pitchers with at least 100 saves. His deal gives him a chance to earn about $5 million in performance bonuses.

The Rangers didn't necessarily need a closer, though the move allows them to return Akinori Otsuka to a setup role. Daniels said the "priority still is the rotation."

"For two years, I've been a cheerleader. That's very frustrating."
-- Eric Gagne

Texas has been negotiating with free agent left-handers Barry Zito, the 2002 AL Cy Young winner, and Mark Mulder -- both first-round draft picks by Oakland and teammates with the Athletics from 2000-04 until Mulder left for St. Louis. New Rangers manager Ron Washington was a bench coach in Oakland during that time.

Daniels acknowledged the obvious interest in the pitchers, but declined comment on specifics.

While Gagne was being introduced, his agent, Scott Boras, was in California preparing for a meeting with Zito and New York Mets officials. Zito and Boras met with Rangers owner Tom Hicks and Daniels in Texas earlier this month.

Mulder visited Texas last week before getting married.

Zito is 102-63 in 222 career starts, including a 16-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 34 starts this year. Mulder, who had shoulder surgery in September and won't be ready to pitch at the start of the season, averaged nearly 18 victories a season from 2001-05 and is 103-57 in 199 starts.

Texas has already re-signed Vicente Padilla, a 15-game winner last season, to a $33.75 million, three-year deal. Kevin Millwood just completed the first season of a five-year deal he signed last winter.

Injuries limited Gagne to 14 games and eight saves in 2005, and two outings with one save last season. He 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.

Gagne has been working out and started playing catch nearly three weeks ago, which he said has him ahead of schedule.

"My arm feels great. ... I'm just excited to start throwing and get to spring training healthy," he said. "For two years, I've been a cheerleader. I haven't really done anything for the team. I've been hurt. That's very frustrating."

The addition of Gagne will move Otsuka back into the eighth-inning role the Rangers planned for the right-hander when they got him in a trade with San Diego last offseason.

Otsuka converted 32 of 36 save chances with a 2.11 ERA in 63 games. He became the closer after Francisco Cordero set a major league record with five blown saves in April, and Cordero was later traded.

"I think he was a little disappointed," said Daniels, who spoke with Otsuka last week. "He took pride in that role. But we brought him in to be one of the premium setup guys in the game. ... We're certainly better with Eric and Aki both at the back of our pen. We explained that to him. I think he understands."

Gagne became the closer for the Dodgers in 2002 and saved 52 games with a 1.97 ERA in 77 appearances. He was primarily a starter during his first three seasons in Los Angeles, going 11-14 in 48 games (38 starts) from 1999-2001, and became a free agent last month when the Dodgers declined his $12 million option for 2007.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press