Dodgers release reliever Gagne

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Eric Gagne, the Dodgers' former Cy Young Award-winning closer who rejoined the team as a non-roster invitee to spring training, asked for and was granted his unconditional release on Sunday night.

With that, the veteran right-hander's relationship probably ended for good with the club for which he successfully converted 84 consecutive save opportunities from 2002-2004. For most of that time, he was the face of the franchise from a marketing standpoint.

"He wanted the opportunity [to come back], and we gave him the opportunity, to come in here and compete," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "There is no doubt in our minds that, as always, he gave everything he had to the opportunity. We just decided at this point that it would be best for both sides for him to see if there was something else out there for him."

Gagne, 34, hadn't pitched in the majors since 2008, and although he did make six starts last season with the Quebec Capitals in the independent Can-Am League, he clearly suffered this spring from the long absence of major league competition. He allowed six runs in 2 2/3 innings over three Cactus League appearances before being reassigned to the minor league side several days ago, at which point he willingly accepted the assignment.

Even after he went to minor league camp, though, his pitches never improved to the point that club officials believed he could help the club anytime this year.

"He was just short," Colletti said. "He was coming off a long period of inactivity, or pitching against talent that was not big league talent. Whether or not he can regain or restore that, time will tell."

Gagne's road with the Dodgers wasn't always smooth. After winning the NL Cy Young in 2003, a season in which he converted all 55 of his save opportunities, he famously lost an arbitration hearing with the club in his first winter of eligibility, settling for a $5 million salary in 2004 rather than the $8 million he was seeking.

After the 2004 season, he was signed to a two-year, $19 million contract, but he experienced elbow problems almost immediately and wound up making a grand total of 16 appearances for the Dodgers over the life of that deal. When the contract expired, he left the organization as a free agent.

Gagne's legacy as the greatest closer in Dodgers history was tarnished in December 2007 when his name appeared in the Mitchell report on use of performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. He acknowledged on the first day of spring training that his reputation had been been forever sullied and that he was willing to accept the consequences of his actions.

Shortly thereafter, Gagne admitted in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that he had used human growth hormone during his time as the Dodgers closer.

Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.