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Buyer Beware: The Eric Gagné Contract Should Serve As a Reminder

Los Angeles Dodgers closer Eric Gagne vs San Francisco Giants in the 9th inning September 24, 2004 at SBC Park in San Francisco, California. The Dodgers beat the Giants 3-2. (Photo by Jon Soohoo/Getty Images)

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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Written by Brook Smith

Brook is the Senior Editor of Dodgers Nation, with several years of experience in sports journalism. He is an avid Dodgers and Lakers fan, and can be spotted fairly often at Dodger Stadium and Staples Center.

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  1. If the Dodgers don’t want to become the Buffalo Bills(lost 4 straight super bowls), then they need to add a difference maker to the team. They gave up Puig’s home runs, and he will be replaced with Verdugo who is not a home run hitter.

      • Opening day is fine today: C Barnes; 1b Muncy; 2b Taylor; 3b Turner; SS Seager; LF Pederson/Hernandez; CF Bellinger; RF Verdugo. That lineup and pitching staff should win the NL West for the 7th consecutive season. I agree with Spencer, post season (notably the WS) which is the issue for this roster. But retaining Puig would not make a difference considering his reverse splits against LH pitching.

      • Brook, my guess is that there not too many who would be comfortable going into OD with this current proposed lineup. Looks to me that there remains at least 3 or 4 positions on the diamond that will be part of that all excessive analytic platoon system Dodgers appeared to have made famous. But again, the off season is still in force so it is a WSS scenario.

        • I think we’ll see alot come into focus over the next two weeks. Its been difficult to predict the direction they’re heading, but the fog is finally starting to lift. They want to get away from a left-handed heavy lineup and its easy to see why. Cant wait to see the moves they make!

  2. Of course the Dodgers only paid Gagne $850K over the 2 seasons when he was the best relief pitcher on the planet.

  3. Yeah the op is trying like hell to explain away the FO failings. Admit it, they screwed the pooch this off season and the results will not be pretty.

  4. The front office needs to do something, anything! Sure this team is good enough to win a now weaker West, but they’re starting to look like dem bums in the 40s and 50s. They need more. Signing Machado and either Pollock or Markakis could do it. They have 75 or so homers they need to replace. Machado could play short until Seager is ready, then move to 3rd. Turner can play 2nd, Muncy at 1st, Belly in left. Taylor and Kike can move around as required. The Ryu signing was a huge mistake. Kluber would be nice, send Joc to Cleveland for him. Even Signing Keuchel to a 2 or 3 year deal could help. The fans just want to see that the FO is at least trying to get better. There have been a lot of top relievers signed to reasonable deals that could have helped the bullpen. Somebody tell Friedman he’s not in Tampa anymore.

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