Monday, May 12, 2008

Save situations, May 12: Izzy, Gagne demoted

Times are tough. Gas prices are skyrocketing. Foreclosures are on the rise. The economy is slumping, and job security is a big concern for Americans everywhere.

Jason Isringhausen and Eric Gagne feel your pain.

Well, OK, maybe that's an overstatement. Those guys are still collecting multi-million-dollar paychecks while the rest of us are scrounging up loose change from the couch cushions just to fill up our gas tanks. But Izzy and Gags are understanding the uneasiness some of us feel about our job futures. Both of those guys were demoted from their team's closer role on successive days over the weekend after piling up the blown saves this year.

Gagne's "temporary" demotion certainly isn't surprising for anyone who's followed The Goggled One since last year. He almost single-handedly sabotaged the Red Sox's playoff push at the end of last year in a trade deadline deal gone horribly wrong, then imploded as the Brewers' closer this year (three blown saves in his past six chances) after somehow wrangling $10 million from Milwaukee this offseason.

Gagne's glory days as the NL's premier closer (152 saves from 2002-04 with the Dodgers) are clearly behind him, as injuries and now a case of a battered confidence have derailed him. The door was left open for Gagne to return to the closer's spot eventually this season after he works out his issues and earns back manager Ned Yost's trust. In the meantime, the Brew Crew will use an all-hands-on-deck approach in the ninth, with Guillermo Mota, David Riske and Salomon Torres, among others, all getting save chances as Yost sees fit.

If I'm a Gagne owner in a league where saves are scarce and I've put up with this nonsense all along just to fill that category, I'm holding onto him on the off chance he does figure things out. Otherwise, I'm dumping him and looking elsewhere. And if you're scrounging for saves and looking at this situation, Mota (2.25 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 19 Ks, 11 BBs in 16 IP, five holds) is probably the favorite to get most of the ninth-inning chances, although Riske and Torres also have some prior closing experience.

Now, onto Isringhausen. It's a similar case of lost confidence after an MLB-high five blown saves this year, and Tony LaRussa's suggestion of a temporary break isn't really a shock. But I do think Izzy is more likely to regain his job, and sooner. After all, he's got a much better track record in recent years than Gagne, even though he's been "pitching like a second-grader" (his words) of late. He's got a lot of miles on his arm but this doesn't seem to be an injury issue at this point. Looks like you'll have to hold onto him, too, if you're looking to boost your save totals, but obviously this rough patch is a concern.

In the meantime, the Cards appear to be going down the "closer-by-committee" road too, although Ryan Franklin, who's having a nice year (1.89 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) worked the ninth and earned the save the day of Izzy's removal. Also, looking further down the road, 24-year-old Bradenton native Chris Perez, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-hander and one of the majors' top reliever prospects, is waiting in the wings in Triple-A. LaRussa initially considered putting Isringhausen on the DL and bringing up Perez before ruling against that. Keep tabs on him, as he could someday soon be Izzy's ninth-inning heir.

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