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On Eric Gagne

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One of the movies I always really liked was "True Romance." Great script by Quentin Tarantino, nice direction, a great cast -- Christian Slater, back when he was still a really good actor and not some nut, Dennis Hopper and Christopher Walken acting crazy, Brad Pitt and Val Kilmer in cameos, Gary Oldman, Patricia Arquette, even guys like Michael Rapaport and Serge from Beverly Hills Cop with strong performances.

And there's a scene, where Slater's character, Clarence Whirly, is trying to unload a huge amount of cocaine he ended up with when he killed his girlfriend's pimp, and is telling the producer that his buddy works for why he should buy this huge amount, rather than stick with his safe little nickel-and-dime purchases from his usual sources, and uses a movie analogy to explain:

CLARENCE: Lee, the reason I'm talkin' with you is I want to open "Doctor Zhivago" in L.A. And I want you to distribute it.

LEE: I don't know, Clarence, "Doctor Zhivago" is a pretty big movie.

CLARENCE: The biggest. The biggest movie you've ever dealt with, Lee. We're talkin' a lot of film. A man'd have ta be an idiot not to be a little cautious about a movie like that. And Lee, you're no idiot.

LEE: I'm not sayin' I'm not interested. But being a distributer's not what I'm all about. I'm a film producer, I'm on this world to make good movies. Nothing more. Now, having my big toe dipped into the distribution end helps me on many levels. But the bottom line is: I'm not Paramount. I have a select group of distributers I deal with. I buy their little movies. Accomplish what I wanna accomplish, end of story. Easy, business-like, very little risk.

CLARENCE: Now that's bullshit, Lee. Every time you buy one of those little movies it's a risk. I'm not sellin' you something that's gonna play two weeks, six weeks, then go straight to cable. This is "Doctor Zhivago". This'll be packin' 'em in for a year and a half. Two years! That's two years you don't have to work with anybody's movie but mine.

The recent flurry of news about the Rangers wanting to work on extending Eric Gagne rather than trading him, and the criticism from fans who say the Rangers can find a closer anywhere, shouldn't be spending money on a closer, makes me think of this exchange.

Because we aren't talking about one of those little closers. We aren't talking about Joe Borowski or Armando Benitez or Ryan Dempster. We're talking about Eric Gagne, one of the most dominant relief pitchers in baseball history.

Eric Gagne, folks, is Doctor Zhivago.

Eric Gagne is one of the great relievers ever to pitch. And he's still only 31 years old. I can't understand the mentality that says, if he wants to stay with the Rangers, we can't be bothered, we don't want him, he needs to go somewhere else because we'd rather spend money elsewhere.

And to be clear, I'm not advocating paying him whatever it takes. If Gagne's position is, "I think if I stay healthy and pitch great and become a free agent this offseason, I'll get a contract of X if things go well, so pay me X right now and I'll stay," then I keep shopping him and tell him we'll talk to him after the season.

But if Gagne is willing to extend now, for a reasonable amount -- not what he's going to get from the highest bidder this offseason, necessarily, but maybe a 3 year deal with a vesting option that allows him to make $12 million per year if he stays healthy and dominant -- and if your medical staff says that he's not an unreasonable injury risk, that they can keep him healthy and on the field the next few years, why wouldn't you do it?

What are the arguments against keeping him?

Well, #1 is that the team isn't going to be any good next season, so there's no point in having Gagne. Although if that's your position, then there's no point in trying to sign anyone this offseason, or keep anyone on the team who can be a free agent in the next couple of years. I don't think that that is necessarily the right tack.

#2 argument is that the bullpen is already good, so there's no point in keeping Gagne and paying him big money. And yes, the bullpen is a strength, and likely would be even if Gagne leaves. But again...we're talking about Doctor Zhivago. We are talking about an elite pitcher pitching 60-80 high leverage innings per year. We talking about a difference maker, one of the best relievers in the game. The strength of the bullpen is a justification for letting Akinori Otsuka or Joaquin Benoit go, not Gagne.

#3 argument is that the Rangers need to spend money on things other than Gagne, that they can't afford to pay Gagne and fill their other holes. And that could be a viable argument.

But here's the thing...let's say the Rangers have a hard, $80 million budget for 2008.

The Rangers now have $33 million owed to players under contract for 2008 (Millwood, Padilla, Blalock, Young, Cat). Mark Teixeira is, most likely, gone before 2008. If you keep Gagne, there's a good chance you deal Otsuka, either at the deadline or this offseason. With those two gone, you've got no significant, big dollar arbitration cases this offseason.

You sign Gagne, you've got $44 million committed in contracts for 2008 and no big arbitration cases.

Who are you going to want to sign as a free agent that you can't afford now?

Carlos Zambrano isn't coming here, and there aren't any other free agent pitchers on the market that are anything special.

And keep in mind, the $11 million we are talking about paying for Gagne is about what the market is for a decent #3/#4 starter on the free agent market.

Who is going to contribute more to the Rangers winning? Eric Gagne, or someone like Vicente Padilla, or Jeff Suppan, or Ted Lilly, or Jason Marquis, or Gil Meche...all guys who are coming in at around $11 million per year?

I'll take 70 innings from Gagne with a 1.75 ERA over 180 innings from one of those guys with the 4.50-4.75 ERA you'd be hoping for from them.

What about a centerfielder? Torii Hunter is apparently looking for 6 years, $90 million this offseason. Nevermind that the Rangers could afford that and Gagne, with plenty of money left over to spend on the rest of their roster this offseason...isn't Gagne a better player than Hunter, a good, not great, offensive player whose defense in centerfield is declining? How does it make sense to say you don't want Gagne because you'd rather spend money on Hunter (or Jermaine Dye, or Andruw Jones) instead?

And haven't we learned from the last couple of offseasons that there is a huge difference between wanting a player to come to Texas, and the player actually signing here? Maybe it is just me, but it seems like we've been burned too many times with free agents who flirt with the Rangers and would rather sign elsewhere. I'd much rather have Gagne here than let him walk so that we can have the "financial flexibility" to see guys talk to Texas and then sign ridiculous deals elsewhere. I'll take the bird in the hand, if we can get it.

Again, it would be one thing if we were talking about some run-of-the-mill closer, about even Francisco Cordero or someone like that.

But we're not.

We're talking about Doctor Zhivago, a guy who is one of the best handful of relievers in the league.

I think Gagne is a good bet to be a huge difference maker the next few years. I think can be the difference between a great Ranger bullpen and the best bullpen in the league. And I think the Rangers can afford to sign him and add other significant pieces to the puzzle, as well.