Brewers remain committed to Gagne
GM Melvin discusses new closer, Mitchell Report
MILWAUKEE -- Brewers general manager Doug Melvin admitted on Friday that Eric Gagne's inclusion in the Mitchell Report on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball, just three days after Gagne and the Brewers finalized a $10 million contract, was a "black eye" for the organization.Turns out the Brewers nearly had two black eyes. Melvin revealed Friday morning on 1510 AM, Milwaukee's ESPN Radio affiliate, that he talked "at length" with Baltimore Orioles officials during last week's Winter Meetings about a trade for shortstop Miguel Tejada, another prominent player named by Mitchell in the report released on Thursday. Instead, the Orioles traded Tejada to the Houston Astros on Wednesday. Houston gave up five players to get Tejada, including outfielder Luke Scott and two pitchers that would have competed for the Astros' starting rotation. The Brewers were not willing to go that high. "It was going to involve giving up some of our good, young players," said Melvin, who said he spoke to Astros GM Ed Wade after the Mitchell Report was released. "We talked about moving Tejada to third base and [Ryan] Braun to the outfield. [Tejada] would have done that for a team that was a contending club. It was going to be [giving up] some of the players that might have impacted our club; we felt it wasn't the right thing to do. "Houston made a good deal. They got a good player in Tejada and the Orioles ended up getting five players back. We just weren't going to give up that kind of package for Tejada, who would have been signed for two more years." Melvin remained steadfast in his commitment to Gagne, who, according to the Mitchell Report, received two shipments of human growth hormone (HGH), at least one of them during his historic 2004 season in which Gagne's record streak of consecutive saves ended at 84. Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association revised the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program in early 2005 to formally ban HGH and imposed stiffer testing protocol and penalties for infractions. Telephone messages left Friday for both Gagne and his agent, Scott Boras, were not returned.
Others associated with the Brewers or the Mitchell Report also declined comment Friday. Brewers union representative Chris Capuano did not return a phone call, and another player said he was told to "stay as far away from this as possible."
Rick Thurman, the agent for Brewers reliever Derrick Turnbow, told a reporter he would have no comment. Turnbow was mentioned in the Mitchell Report for a previously disclosed failed drugs test in 2003, when Turnbow was trying out for the U.S. Olympic team. He was with the Angels at the time and was never disciplined by Major League Baseball.
Brewers assistant GM Gord Ash, whose duties include heading the team's medical program, told MLB.com that he had yet to read the document in full.
"My feeling is exactly what both Sen. Mitchell and Commissioner [Bud] Selig talked about, that the important part is not what happened in the past, but what we're going to do going forward," Ash said. "[Players Association head] Don Fehr talked about the fact that the testing program over the last two years has been, for the most mart, pretty effective, and it may continue to develop. That's the best that you can do."
Ash and other Brewers officials have thrown their support behind MLB's testing guidelines, though Ash said the team has little to do with the process other than granting testers entry to the stadium and the clubhouse.
"This is something we have been dealing with over the last two years," Ash said. "It has worked very well."
The Mitchell Report was nearly two years in the making, and Brewers officials decided they could not wait for it to be released to make their personnel decisions. The team finished as runners-up to the Cubs in the 2007 National League Central standings, and will enter 2008 expected to contend.That meant pursuing players before the report was issued. So far, the team has traded for relievers Guillermo Mota, who began last season serving a 50-game suspension for steroids, and Salomon Torres, claimed catcher Eric Munson off waivers and signed free agent catcher Jason Kendall and pitchers Randy Choate, Gagne and David Riske. In his morning radio interview, Melvin conceded that it was a bit embarrassing to see Gagne show up in the report. "We know this is a black eye with the signing of Eric just a couple days earlier," Melvin told the station. "Any player that you were going to acquire or sign as free agents, sure, there were people in the organization who said, 'Hey, they might be on the report.' But it's all speculation. No one knew about it. No one had any facts on it. We all decided that if [a player] is on the report, it has to be from prior years, because the last two years, there has been a drug testing program in place that has been abided by." Gagne battled elbow and back injuries in 2005 and 2006, but re-established himself in 2007 after signing as a free agent with Texas, posting a 2.16 ERA with 16 saves in 34 games. He struggled after a trade to Boston and a new role as a setup man, putting up a 6.75 ERA in 20 appearances. That the Red Sox traded for Gagne was interesting given another aspect of the Mitchell Report. In it, Mitchell writes about an e-mail exchange between Boston GM Theo Epstein and scout Marc DelPiano in which Epstein asked, "What do you hear on his medical?" DelPiano responded, in part, that, "Mentality without the plus weapons and without steroid help probably creates a large risk in bounce-back durability and ability to throw average while allowing the changeup to play as it once did." Melvin said he sought referrals from both Epstein and field manager Terry Francona before the Brewers signed Gagne, and performance-enhancing drugs never came up. Melvin also downplayed the Red Sox's concerns, pointing out that Epstein acquired Gagne anyway in a July 2007 trade. "[The suspicions] obviously didn't mean much to Theo, because they gave up three pretty good prospects and paid the incentives that didn't have to be paid for [Gagne's] contract, and paid him $3.5 million for half a season and acquired him [in July]," Melvin said on the radio. The Brewers were heavily involved with the Rangers at the time and were reportedly willing to part with outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr. and left-handed prospect Zach Jackson to get Gagne. "All of this evidence coming out on the players, it's all prior to the '05 season," Melvin said. "As we go into the '08 season, we're evaluating talent based on what we've seen in the last season, [or] two seasons. Did we know that certain players were doing this? No, we didn't know that. You can speculate."
Adam McCalvy is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.