Team Canada’s roster at the World Baseball Classic surely generated a few chuckles when it listed 41-year-old former closer Eric Gagne and 39-year-old MLB Network commentator Ryan Dempster among its pitchers. For Gagne, it turned into more than just a publicity stunt, though.
According to our own Jon Heyman, Gagne still says he throws in the low-90s and feels spry enough to attempt a comeback if given a chance. For what it’s worth, Gagne did record 161 saves with the Dodgers, including an MLB-record 84 straight and three years of 45 or more from 2002-04. He won the Cy Young in 2003, but saw his career spiral out of control and end after Gagne suffered multiple arm injuries and was named in the infamous Mitchell Report.
He also wrote a biography and alleged that 80 percent of his Dodgers teammates used steroids (Kevin Brown, Guillermo Mota and Paul Lo Duca were teammates then, but 80 percent seems a tad bit high…). So, to say Gagne’s career — especially in Los Angeles — had its ups and downs would be an understatement.
At his best, Gagne was the best closer in baseball — a fan-favorite who was an automatic finisher. At his worst, he was scuffling with the Red Sox and Brewers just a few years after winning the Cy Young. Now, many years later, he’s trying his hand at pitching again.
If the reports are true and Gagne is hitting low-90s in velocity, that’s a good start. His one-game WBC stint was also impressive: 2.1 IP, 1 H, 1 BB, 0 R, 2 K. The fact that he can obviously still pitch against at least high-level batters is promising.
But, again, he’s 41. And was in the Mitchell Report. And isn’t one of the better relief pitcher options available on the free-agent market or in most teams’ minor-league systems. He may be a money-draw like Tim Tebow for the Mets, but it looks to be a long-shot for Gagne to actually get signed again by a Major-League team, and a longer-one for him to be effective if he does.
Especially the Dodgers. They have a creative, deep-pocketed front office, but even they probably wouldn’t make that kind of reach unless a dozen other pitchers were to get injured. They have a ton of high-quality pitching prospects in the farm system and one of the better bullpens in the league as it already stands. If the Dodgers were to bring back Gagne for any reason other than publicity, it would mean something probably went seriously wrong with the roster.
That said, the team has had its fair share of injuries to the starting rotation, and if they are forced to use Ross Stripling, Alex Wood and Julio Urias as starters because of those injuries, maybe a spot opens up for a more outlandish move like a Gagne signing for the bullpen. It still seems like a long-shot, but if any team would take that chance it might be the Dodgers.
As mentioned, they have the creativity to make something work and it might ignite a fan base that loved Gagne for many years in the early-2000s. Even if it was just a short contract that gave Gagne a late-season shot at earning one more deal somewhere after 2017, there’s always a chance.
Still, don’t expect to see Gagne donning a Dodgers jersey — or any jersey, for that matter — again anytime soon.