There’s a Cy Young Award winner in Central Islip. The Ducks signed and activated reliever Eric Gagne yesterday.
Gagne, 41, who won the National League Cy Young Award as a Los Angeles Dodger in 2003 and finished in the top 10 in the Cy Young voting in 2002 and 2004, last played with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2008. In 10 major league seasons, he had 187 saves, struck out 718 in 643 2⁄3 innings and had a 3.47 ERA.
During his Cy Young-winning season, Gagne was perfect in 55 save opportunities and struck out 137 in 82 1⁄3 innings. He holds the major-league record with 84 consecutive save opportunities converted from August 2002 to July 2004.
Gagne retired in 2010 but played for Team Canada in this spring’s World Baseball Classic in an attempt to see if his career had any more gas. He allowed one hit, struck out two and walked one in 2 1⁄3 innings in the WBC. He also pitched in one game during each of the previous two seasons in the independent Canadian-American Association.
“I was totally done,” Gagne said. “I went to coach in France for four years and owned a team in the Canadian-American Association . . . I pitched [once] last year in Ottawa . . . I pitched really well and said, ‘You know what? Let’s try it and see what happens.’ ”
Ducks president and general manager Michael Pfaff said discussions with Gagne began in the offseason and heated up during the last week. “We’re happy to give Eric this opportunity,” Pfaff said. “He has had a tremendous professional baseball career and, like so many [former] major-leaguers that come to the Atlantic League, is looking to showcase himself to 30 MLB clubs and get another opportunity. He’s ready for this opportunity and we’re excited to give it to him.”
Gagne retired because of persistent back problems that required two surgeries. Years removed from those woes, he’s ready to pitch pain-free. “Now it feels great,” he said. “I know I can do it on the mound. I just have to do it day-in and day-out. That’s exactly why I’m here, to show the teams that I can do it on a daily basis . . . I’m probably going to throw anywhere from 90-94 [mph]. I have a new slider and the changeup is the same that it’s always been.”
The Ducks have become a prime destination for players looking to sign back with major league organizations. The latest high-profile example is Rich Hill, the Los Angeles Dodgers lefty who made two starts for the Ducks in 2015, struck out 21 batters in 11 shutout innings and soon was back in the big leagues, starting for the Red Sox.
Hill won Game 3 of the NLCS for the Dodgers last fall before signing a three-year, $48-million contract with Los Angeles in the offseason.
“I think it’s a good springboard here,” Gagne said. “There’s a lot of scouts that still come to the games and it gives me a chance to pitch now. I can’t just sit home in Arizona . . . I wanted to come here and show the teams I’m ready. I want to get back to the big leagues. That’s exactly why I’m here.”