Posted: Monday June 26, 2006 3:04PM; Updated: Tuesday June 27, 2006 10:25AM
Takashi Saito has solidified the back end of the Dodgers' bullpen, but how long will L.A. be able to rely upon him, at age 36?
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Now, after knee surgery, two arm surgeries and further complications, Gagne most likely will have to negotiate from scratch. One potential outcome would be for him to sign a deal similar to that of another injury-riddled player, Nomar Garciaparra -- whose one-year base salary balances his past success with concerns about his health, augmented by powerful incentives in case the greatness returns.
But will that deal be with the Dodgers?L.A. Times beat writer Steve Henson thinks everyone involved would like to see Gagne remain in Los Angeles. But it's not a given.
"[Dodgers GM Ned] Colletti is not intimidated by [Gagne's agent Scott] Boras," Henson said. "He'll work with him. He's not against signing a player that Scott represents. But he's pretty much made a pact with himself not to be a pushover to Boras.
"You look at Colletti's experience in San Francisco with Armando Benitez, you look back at them signing Robb Nen, [Colletti] knows the risks of giving a lot of money to a closer, especially a veteran guy."
What would the Dodgers do without Gagne -- especially considering that during his current absence, the bullpen has a National League-leading 17 losses? Preparing for Gagne to miss some time this season, Colletti traded for Tampa Bay closer Danys Baez, but Baez showed his vulnerability one month into the job and lost it.
Japanese import Takashi Saito is the bullpen ace now, pitching splendidly with a 1.72 ERA and more than a strikeout every inning, but even Dodgers manager Grady Little has expressed skepticism about the 36-year-old maintaining that pace, telling the Times, "how many bullets he's got left in his arm, we're not sure." Jonathan Broxton, a 288-pound, 22-year-old rookie with 39 strikeouts and a 3.03 ERA in 29 2/3 innings, is now the leading in-house candidate to replace Gagne.
For his part, Gagne isn't ready to be replaced. "I know I'm going to be fine this year," he says. He thinks he'll throw his fastball 94-95 mph again. The only concession he offered is a need to spend more time in the bullpen on his changeup, the pitch that triggered his most current malady.
Despite his absence, the Dodgers are in first place in the National League West, and Gagne firmly expects to play a role in putting the team over the top. But no one really knows.
On Friday, Gagne was asked a question that could apply to every aspect of the moment -- his intense desire to pitch and whether to worry about his future: How do you not suffer another injury?
"I don't know how you don't do it," Gagne said.
Being human, being subject to injuries, doesn't make Gagne unique. It makes him like every other pitcher. There's nothing wrong with that.