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Frank Talk From Gagne

Dodger closer says McCourt and DePodesta have to step up in the off-season. Owner says he will spend what it takes to win.

October 07, 2005|Steve Henson | Times Staff Writer

What pitcher Brad Penny whispered and second baseman Jeff Kent suggested as the disappointing Dodger season ended, closer Eric Gagne stated boldly and clearly Thursday:

Owner Frank McCourt, no more long-winded rationalizations, spend what it takes to put a winner on the field.

General Manager Paul DePodesta, no more lame justifications for roster moves that don't work. Acquire quality veteran players, somehow, some way.

Enough with the losing.

We are the Dodgers.

"You need to add a 40-home-run guy and a guy who hits .310, that's two hitters," Gagne said. "You need to re-sign Jeff Weaver, the innings he gives us are priceless.

"The Dodgers make money. The fans show up. You have to give back. As a business, you have to make money. But you have to take risk to make money and in baseball that means paying for players."

Informed of Gagne's comments, McCourt said he was disappointed that one of his players chose to go to the media rather than to him with concerns. But he emphasized that he has authorized DePodesta to spend what it takes to put a winning team on the field. DePodesta is in Italy for his sister's wedding and was unavailable for comment.

"We want to win as much as Eric Gagne does," McCourt said. "We will spend what it takes to win. I've said it over and over and over again, so all our fans hear it loud and clear."

Gagne, the 2003 Cy Young Award winner who saved 152 games from 2002 to 2004, sounded angry, frustrated and embarrassed. He sat out most of the 2005 season because of an elbow injury, notching only eight saves, but that didn't spare him from feeling despondent over the season.

"I close games; I can't save losses," he said. "I'll be in a situation in a year where I can choose a team that wants to win. I love the Dodgers and want to be a Dodger. I really like the McCourts and their attitude. I want them to know that they can make a lot of money by winning.

"We have resources for trades. We have a lot of money. This year, we didn't have the Dodger brand. They bought the brand and we have to put that back in the minds of fans and throughout baseball, that we are the Dodgers."

McCourt pointed out that the Dodgers spent more on free agents last off-season than any other team besides the New York Mets.

"But I also don't want to be fooled by the fact that you spend $144 million on free agents and it's a magic elixir to win," he said. "It's more complicated than that. It requires a long- and short-term commitment to win."

Gagne has one year left on a two-year, $18-million contract. McCourt's spending and DePodesta's roster-building this off-season will determine whether 2006 is his last season as a Dodger.

McCourt promised to spend $100 million on payroll last season, yet the tab was about $90 million, and that included $13 million to pitcher Darren Dreifort, who the team knew would be on the disabled list all season, and $10 million to Shawn Green, who was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Dodgers also received an insurance payment for Dreifort's contract estimated at $6 million.

The payroll of players on the active roster was less than $70 million. Next season, it could be reduced even more because the Dreifort and Green money will be off the books, Weaver (who made $9.3 million) and Jose Valentin ($3.5 million) will be free agents, and pitcher Wilson Alvarez ($2 million) has retired.

DePodesta has estimated that raises to players with existing contracts and to arbitration-eligible players will boost payroll by about $15 million, bringing the total to about $70 million without any acquisitions.

The way Gagne has it figured, the Dodgers have enough spare change to bring in several quality veterans.

"We had 3.6 million fans show up," he said. "You have to give back to the fans. They show up. You have to give back."

Gagne is the team's biggest draw. The "Game Over" campaign, complete with thunderous music and vivid graphics, keeps fans in their seats through the ninth inning. He also personifies toughness and the will to win, qualities he believes were in short supply last season.

"I'm embarrassed for the uniform that we put on that kind of performance," he said. "There are no excuses. It wasn't acceptable."

He also isn't happy that Manager Jim Tracy was fired. A new manager means more unfamiliarity, more uncertainty.

"Tracy is a great man, a great manager and I thought we should have kept him," Gagne said. "He built something here. Now they have to rebuild it. It doesn't happen overnight. Now, whoever comes in has to get to know everybody.

"We didn't lose because of Tracy."

In Gagne's view, repairing the damage begins with the owner and the general manager.

"Hopefully they want to win at any price," he said. "Winning is the reason you play baseball. That's got to be the way it is upstairs. They've got to understand that everything you put in, you'll get it back four, five, six times.

"Having a family-owned team is huge. From the bottom of my heart I do believe in them, but the bottom line is they have to show it."

Just watch me, McCourt seemed to say.

"In terms of the gist of what [Gagne] is saying, that this is the Dodgers, this is L.A. and we need to be thinking of ourselves as a great franchise, I agree with that sentiment wholeheartedly," he said. "It's a big job and it's not easy. We're committed and energized by that.

"We've now tasted the high of victory and the frustration of this season and how agonizing and painful it is. I know our fans feel it. I have no intention of repeating it."

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