It was the Summer of 1999 when Eric Gagné made his first appearance for the Dodgers. Los Angeles was in Miami for a series against the Marlins, already well behind in the NL West standings. The Diamondbacks were running away with the division and well on their way to the postseason. So naturally, the Dodgers felt comfortable trotting out the then-23-year-old pitcher from Montreal, Canada to help finish out the miserable season. Gagné made the start and pitched six innings of two-hit ball, en route to a Dodgers’ loss.
But most people don’t remember Eric Gagné the starting pitcher. Most fans remember Eric Gagné the dominant force out of the bullpen that locked down saves with ease. They remember the deafening guitar chords of Welcome to the Jungle blaring over the stadium speakers, and the stadium literally shaking with excitement. Fans look back and think about a blistering fastball, a disappearing splitter, and dizzying changeup. But there was also the end of his time in Los Angeles that people tend to remember and cringe at.
The reason why I bring this sad part of Dodgers’ history up is that it IS the offseason. Fans are looking for the front office to make a splash in free agency, and I understand why. Back-to-back World Series losses can become quite tiresome, as you would expect. But keep this thought in mind: Eric Gagné got paid pretty well in 2005, and it went terribly for the Dodgers.
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Gagné inked a two-year deal that paid a staggering(at the time) $18 million on this exact day 14 years ago. And why not? He had pitched in 135 games over the last three seasons since becoming a closer and had dominated the entire way. From 2002 to 2004, Gagné posted a sparkling 1.5 ERA to go along with a 13.7 strikeout rate. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off almost the instant they signed that deal.
The closer battled through injuries almost all of the 2005 season, including the possibility of facing Tommy John surgery halfway through the year. Doctor’s were able to choose a less invasive surgery to relieve a nerve in his elbow, but Gagné still missed the remainder of the season. The following year was more of the same. After an encouraging spring performance, Gagne was again shut down with elbow pain. This time, doctors opted to remove the nerve in his elbow completely. He returned to the mound in early June, only to experience another setback. Two herniated discs shut him down for the remainder of his Dodgers’ tenure.
A Lesson to Be Learned
The Dodgers ended up dropping $18 million and got just over 15 innings of work from Gagné. That amounts to roughly $1.17 million for each out he recorded. Big contracts are dangerous, and that has been proven time and time again throughout the league.
That’s not to say that this should stop Los Angeles from going in heavily on a top-tiered free agent though. Back-to-back World Series losses have left fans in a frenzy, hungry for a Championship to return home to Los Angeles. Andrew Friedman and co will have to make a huge decision over the coming weeks. Do they go all in and give a free agent a huge contract that could come back to bite them? Or do they play it safe and take the route that has brought them relative success that past couple of years?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, or on Twitter @brookMe3
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