Brewers ink Gagne to one-year deal
Three-time All-Star joins revamped Milwaukee bullpen
When the Milwaukee Brewers lost closer Francisco Cordero to free agency, then reliever Scott Linebrink, the bullpen was in disarray. Not anymore.
The Brewers found a new closer, signing free-agent reliever Eric Gagne to a one-year, $10 million contract on Monday. The deal includes $1 million in incentives.
"Eric's saves numbers speak for themselves," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "This signing provides a proven closer who will be an integral part of our rebuilt bullpen."
Cordero signed a four-year contract with the Cincinnati Reds, and Linebrink chose to sign with the Chicago White Sox. Gagne was watching all the transactions.
"I kind of keep up with what's going on around the league," Gagne said. "I know what's available. The Brewers were one team I was interested in. I didn't know if 'Coco' [Cordero] was going to come back. That's what I wanted to do, was be a closer."
Since the season ended, the Brewers have added David Riske, who has 20 career saves, to a three-year deal, and traded for Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander Salomon Torres. They also acquired Guillermo Mota from the New York Mets for catcher Johnny Estrada. Now, Gagne is in the fold.
"With our club making the strides we did last year, it was very important to know we had someone of Eric's ability at the back end of our bullpen to close ballgames," Melvin said.
A plus for the Brewers, Melvin said, is that they could add the arms without having to deal some of the young players on the roster.
"I was part of really, really good bullpens four, five years ago," Gagne said. "I take pride in having a really good bullpen, especially in the National League -- you play the game backwards. Here, they've got three, four guys who could be closers in the bullpen. We're going to go to Spring Training and there's a lot of new faces, and we'll get to know each other and try to complement each other."
Gagne's agent, Scott Boras, originally talked about a multi-year deal. This seems a good fit, the pitcher said.
"I don't look that far [ahead]," Gagne said. "I try to take one pitch at a time. I just worry about this year. I want to play for a team that has a chance to make the playoffs and go deep in the playoffs. It's probably the deepest bullpen I've ever seen. They're capable of giving you innings and consistent innings. It's a great team, it's an exciting team to watch. I'm real excited."
Gagne played with Brewers pitching coach Mike Maddux, and knows one-time Brewers closer Derrick Turnbow well. The two play golf in the offseason. Turnbow saved 39 games in 2005, then lost the job in '06 and was used as a setup pitcher last season.
"I talked to Derrick," Melvin said, "and he said, 'I know what my job is, and that's to get the ball to Eric in the back of the game.'"
Gagne, 31, posted seasons of 52, 55 and 45 saves for the Los Angeles Dodgers from 2002-04, but injuries to his elbow and back limited him to 15 innings over 16 games the next two seasons. Last year, he was a combined 4-2 with 16 saves in 20 opportunities and a 3.81 ERA with Texas and Boston.
Gagne passed his physical with flying colors, Melvin said. This offseason has been enjoyable for Gagne, who is working on building up strength and not just rehabbing from injuries.
It wasn't a tough sell to get Gagne to sign with the Brewers.
"I think everybody around baseball looks at Milwaukee differently," Gagne said. "They know they'll be good for a long time. Last year, what they did was very special. They have a good core of players."
Bullpen coach Billy Castro has had success at resurrecting pitchers' careers. Gagne may be another candidate. The right-hander has had success, winning the 2003 National League Cy Young Award with a 1.20 ERA and career-high 55 saves.
Gagne has a career record of 29-23 with a 3.31 ERA and 177 saves in 352 appearances, including 48 starts. He has held opponents to a .216 batting average, and has the best save percentage in Major League history of any reliever with at least 175 opportunities.
The Brewers led the Central Division most of last season but faltered at the end to finish second at 83-79. Gagne sees lots of positives with young players like Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun in the mix.
"It's an exciting ballclub -- there's a lot of energy and they play the game right," Gagne said. "To be in the playoff hunt for the whole year makes a lot of difference. It raises a lot of confidence, and now I think they're ready for the next step."
Carrie Muskat is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.