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02/17/09 11:36 PM EST

Brewers sign Gagne to Minors deal

Reliever can become free agent if he doesn't make 40-man roster

PHOENIX -- Exactly one year to the date he arrived at Maryvale Baseball Park with a $10 million contract in tow, Eric Gagne will report Wednesday as a Minor Leaguer pitching for a job.

Gagne, a right-handed reliever and once the game's most dominating closer, agreed on Tuesday to a Minor League contract with Milwaukee that includes an invitation to big league camp and an out clause that will allow him back to free agency if he doesn't get a 40-man roster spot before the end of Spring Training.

"He's got to win a job," Brewers general manager Doug Melvin said. "He came to me at the end of the season and told me he felt he didn't earn his [salary], that he didn't pitch the way he wanted to pitch for what he was being paid. He said he felt indebted to us to come back in and give it another shot for us.

"I didn't expect that, and I respect the fact that he stood up and said, 'I didn't pitch well.' He came to me and said, 'I'm sorry I disappointed you.' But he pitched well at the end of the year and that's what counted, so I give him a lot of credit for that."

Gagne's agent, Scott Boras, didn't return MLB.com's phone call, but he did talk to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which reported that Gagne will earn a $1.5 million base salary if he makes the team, plus up to $3 million more in incentives. The bonuses include another $2 million based on games pitched from 25 to 60, plus another $1 million based on games finished from 50-65. According to the Journal Sentinel, Gagne's "out" date is March 25, two weeks before Opening Day.

After signing a $10 million, one-year deal and then appearing in former Sen. George Mitchell's report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, Gagne began 2008 as the Brewers' closer but lost the job in May because of poor performance and a shoulder injury. He had a 6.98 ERA when Salomon Torres took over as the closer, but Gagne then posted a 4.33 ERA after returning from the disabled list and didn't allow a run in his final 11 appearances, including two games in the National League Division Series.

Overall, Gagne was 4-3 with a 5.44 ERA last season and was 10-for-17 in save chances.

Boras called Melvin "a few days ago" to see if the Brewers were interested in Gagne, and at the time the answer was no, mostly because the team had other relievers in camp that were worth a look. But club officials later decided it was worth a shot as a low-risk, high-reward signing, and when Boras was open to a Minor League deal, terms were quickly hashed out.

Gagne, who lives in Phoenix, will undergo a physical exam on Wednesday and should be on the field for the Brewers' first full-squad workout.

He joins a crowded bullpen. Trevor Hoffman is the closer and Carlos Villanueva, David Riske and Seth McClung and at least one left-hander, from Mitch Stetter or R.J. Swindle, are ticketed for what will probably be a seven-man relief corps. Assuming only one lefty makes the cut, it would leave only two more spots for a field of competitors led by 40-man roster members Todd Coffey, Jorge Julio, Mark DiFelice, Tim Dillard and Rule 5 pick Eduardo Morlan.

If he does not win a spot on the Major League roster, it's unlikely that Gagne would report to Triple-A Nashville.

"I don't expect him to go to the Minor Leagues," Melvin said.

Melvin said Gagne's decision to sign had nothing to do with the team's decision to cancel a trip by top pro scout, Dick Groch, to see free-agent reliever Chad Cordero throw in California on Wednesday. Cordero's camp informed clubs that he will be throwing only at about 80 percent of total effort, so the Brewers instead will send their local scouts.

The Brewers are not interested in former St. Louis reliever Jason Isringhausen, another right-handed former closer who, like Gagne, could be open to a Minor League deal.

Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.