Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Red Sox Bolster Bullpen with Gagne Trade

Just before the major league baseball trade deadline (for non-waiver deals) passed, the Red Sox made a move to bolster their bullpen by acquiring relief ace Eric Gagne from the Rangers. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

CLEVELAND - Eric Gagne's comeback has landed him a new role on a new team: helping the Red Sox close out the Yankees. Gagne, pitching like his old self following two elbow operations and back surgery, was acquired by Boston for the stretch run on Tuesday from the Texas Rangers, who also unloaded first baseman Mark Teixeira to Atlanta in a seven-player swap.

Once one of baseball's premier closers, Gagne waived the no-trade clause in his contract to join a Boston bullpen that already had two All-Star relievers: closer Jonathan Papelbon and setup man Hideki Okajima.

But the Red Sox, who entered Tuesday leading the AL East by eight games over New York, didn't want to take any chances of blowing their big lead and acquired Gagne to bolster the back end of their bullpen after consecutive implosions last weekend by Papelbon and Manny Delcarmen.

Gagne will serve as Papelbon's primary setup man and will close on days Papelbon needs rest.

"We actually love our bullpen," Boston manager Terry Francona said of his relievers, who have the lowest ERA (2.74) in the majors. "I think it just got a lot better. Papelbon, Okajima and Gagne — these are guys that you don't match up. You just let them pitch really good baseball."

Shortly after acquiring Gagne, Boston announced that reliever Brendan Donnelly will have season-ending surgery on his right elbow.

The Red Sox sent left-hander Kason Gabbard and minor league outfielders David Murphy and Engel Beltre to the Rangers, who were the busiest team in the majors before Tuesday's 4 p.m. EDT non-waiver trade deadline.
Texas also will cover part of what remains on Gagne's contract.

He was guaranteed $2.5 million in additional money by Boston to accept the trade, raising his 2007 earnings to $9.85 million. Gagne already had a $6 million base salary and had earned $1.35 million in performance bonuses. As part of the deal, he agreed to eliminate his remaining performance bonuses, which are based on games finished.

Gagne was on Boston's radar screen last winter before he signing a one-year contract with the Rangers in December after eight successful seasons with the Dodgers. He went 2-0 with a 2.16 ERA and 16 saves for last-place Texas, which began a three-game series in Cleveland 15 1/2 games behind the first-place Los Angeles Angels in the AL West.

The 31-year-old Gagne was a three-time All-Star and won the NL Cy Young Award in 2003 when he saved 55 games for the Dodgers. He had 45 saves in 2004 but was limited to just 14 the following season because of elbow problems that eventually needed surgery. The hard-throwing native of Montreal pitched in only two games last season as he tried to come back from another elbow operation as well as surgery to repair a herniated disk.

From 2002-04, Gagne set a major league record by converting 84 consecutive saves. There were still doubts about his durability, but he has been able to pitch on consecutive days this season, further proof that he's healthy.

The 25-year-old Gabbard went 4-0 with a 3.73 ERA, taking Curt Schilling's spot in the rotation while the right-hander was on the disabled list. Schilling, who was scheduled to make a rehab start on Tuesday in Columbus, Ohio, could be activated later this week.

Murphy, 26, was batting .280 with nine homers and 47 RBIs in 100 games for Triple-A Pawtucket. Beltre, 18, batted .215 with five homers and 13 RBIs for the Gulf Coast Red Sox.

The Sox had damned well better hope he is healthy. If he is, and if he can remain effective, he will undoubtedly help the team preserve late-inning leads as the season heads into the home stretch. Gagne adds a terrific power arm to a bullpen of Papelbon, Delcarmen, Mike Timlin, Hideki Okajima and Javier Lopez. My guess is that Julian Tavarez will likely resume Gabbard's spot in the rotation if Schilling isn't quite ready to come back, at which point he will be back in the bullpen as the second long man with Kyle Snyder.

As for the departing players, Gabbard will be the one that hurts the most. He seems like he'll be a good major league starter with more experience, and if not for Curt Schilling's trip to the DL he would still be in Triple-A honing his skills. A good lefty starter is tough to part with, but the Sox recently brought up Jon Lester, and he has pitched fairly well in his starts since rejoining the big club. As for Murphy, he is an outfielder who had a couple of cups of coffee with the big club this season and last season, but who never truly figured into any future plans. I've never heard of Beltre, so I assume the same applies for him. We still have a few hours to go until the deadline, so we shall see what else Theo Epstein has up his sleeve.

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