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Rangers add Gagne to bullpen mix as new closer

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.

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.