Gagne Loses His Case in Arbitration

Times Staff Writer

The Dodgers continued on a potentially dangerous path with Eric Gagne, defeating the All-Star closer in salary arbitration Thursday after renewing his contract last season.

A three-person panel sided with the club in awarding Gagne $5 million this season, the highest salary for a pitcher in his first season of arbitration eligibility but $3 million less than the 2003 National League Cy Young Award winner had sought. Gagne is now the fourth-highest paid closer in baseball.

Gagne privately expressed frustration last year after getting only a $550,000 contract after his breakthrough 52-save season. Now, barring agreement on a long-term contract, the two sides will face the unpleasant task of arbitration after the next two seasons as well. Gagne, 28, is eligible to become a free agent after the 2006 season.


“This is not fun,” said assistant general manager Kim Ng, in charge of the process for the Dodgers.

“It’s a very tough process that these guys and the clubs have to go through. Any time you have to go through this type of situation

Agent Scott Boras spoke on behalf of Gagne, who was traveling and might report to Dodgertown tonight.

“We had a fair hearing and Eric felt very good after the hearing,” said Boras, who presented Gagne’s case. “But whenever you go to litigation, and that’s what this is, you don’t know what’s going to happen.

“Eric was well aware of the win-lose side of this when we entered the process. The business of baseball is that we had the right to go [to arbitration], and the Dodgers had the right not to offer Eric [a multiyear contract].”

Boras had hoped the Dodgers would reward the record-setting reliever with a long-term deal after Gagne had what many veteran baseball officials considered to be the best season for a closer: 2-3 with a 1.20 earned-run average, 55 saves in as many opportunities, 137 strikeouts, 37 hits and 20 walks in 82 1/3 innings. He has saved a major league-record 63 consecutive games since August 2002.

In November, Boras said the club had not treated Gagne fairly when it renewed his contract after his first season as a closer.

On Thursday, Boras stressed his commitment to “work with the Dodgers in the future to do what’s fair for Eric and the club.”

Dodger General Manager Paul DePodesta was asked, considering Gagne’s importance to the team, impact on the payroll and the divisiveness and unpredictability of arbitration, whether the Dodgers would offer Gagne a multiyear deal.

“I don’t know enough about this case to say what would make sense, but I don’t have a predisposition to say that I won’t give any pitcher more than two years,” DePodesta said. “It’s hard for me to answer because I’m not as familiar with everything that’s gone on the last couple of years, or the feelings or anything of that sort.

“Obviously, this guy has achieved an awful lot and is an integral part of this club. I’m open to anything. I’m very careful about ever saying never or that I wouldn’t want to for sure. Every case is an individual one. Sometimes you have a comfort level with giving a pitcher four years, five years. ... It’s a case-by-case basis.”

Gagne’s arbitration case was a battle of time versus accomplishments.

The Dodgers, whose case was argued by Mark Rosenthal, said Gagne was an amazing closer, which is why they offered him $750,000 more than the $4.25 million Mariano Rivera of the New York Yankees was awarded in 1999, previously the highest salary for a closer in his first year of eligibility. Boras countered that Gagne’s “special accomplishments” enabled him to be compared to players who had more big-league experience.

Ultimately, arbitrators Stephen Goldberg, Dan Brent and Elliott Shriftman sided with the Dodgers.

“This was a special-accomplishments case,” Boras said. “The issue was the rule of a three- or four-year player versus whether the special accomplishments of the player enabled him to rise above that rule.”

Was Boras too aggressive in seeking $8 million?

“I wouldn’t want to characterize what they did,” Ng said. “We filed at a number that we thought was a good number.”

With the process behind them, the Dodgers anticipate Gagne’s arrival at Dodgertown.

“Everybody thought he was going to have a difficult time last year at this time because of the contract situation, and he had a pretty good season,” said Derrick Hall, senior vice president. “He’s capable of separating this. Both sides are professional enough to make it work.”



Money Trail

Arbitration winners and losers in Major League Baseball:


*--* Player, Club Asked Offered A.J. Pierzynski, San Francisco $3,500,000 $2,250,000 David Eckstein, Angels $2,150,000 $1,600,000 Jack Wilson, Pittsburgh $1,850,000 $1,400,000 LOSERS Player, Club Asked Offered Eric Gagne, Dodgers $8,000,000 $5,000,000 Johan Santana, Minnesota $2,450,000 $1,600,000 Nick Johnson, Montreal $1,680,000 $1,250,000 Chris Reitsma, Cincinnati $1,450,000 $950,000