Dodgers retain Saito's services

Dodgers retain Saito's services

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- With nothing doing on the Eric Gagne front for a while (if at all), the Dodgers made sure his successor is in the fold for 2007, re-signing Takashi Saito to a one-year contract.

Saito, who left Japan with no fanfare last year and signed a $500,000 Minor League contract, didn't even make the Major League club out of Spring Training, yet inherited the closer role in May and set a franchise rookie record with 24 saves.

When the season ended, Saito suggested he might not return to the United States for a second season, but two months of negotiations indicated that was mostly intended for leverage. As a player with one year service time, Saito was not eligible for salary arbitration or free agency and his only other Major League option was to not play.

The Dodgers could have renewed his salary as low as $400,000, but reached a deal guaranteeing $1 million with another possible $300,000 in incentive bonuses based on games finished. Saito finished 48 games in 2006, which would be worth $100,000 in 2007.

"It's a unique situation, and you can tell by the salary that we treated it that way," said vice president Kim Ng, who handled negotiations for the club. "He was a pretty integral part of the club, especially in the second half, and he was rewarded for that."

Saito, who will be 37 when Spring Training opens, went 6-2 with a 2.07 ERA and successfully converted all but two save opportunities in 2006. With a repertoire that includes a moving fastball in the low-90 mph range and a sharp slider and splitter, Saito struck out 107 batters in 78 1/3 innings and limited opponents to a .177 average -- right-handed batters hit only .129 off him.

The oldest rookie in Dodgers history, Saito was a four-time All-Star in Japan as a starter and a closer, but he was an outright free agent last winter, and the Dodgers were not required to post a fee to earn the rights to sign him. He has turned out to be quite a bargain in light of the $51 million Boston has anted for the right to sign Japanese starter Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Gagne, a free agent, is trying to return from elbow and back operations. He has just begun tossing and is weeks -- if not months -- away from being able to show he's healthy. He's believed to be seeking a contract worth more than $5 million guaranteed.

"We need to have a balance of information and a comfort level coupled with guaranteed dollars," said general manager Ned Colletti. "It's tough to make an offer if you don't have a comfort level. Nobody knows the time frame Mother Nature has. The truest test of any player is how he performs in the heat of battle when the season starts."

The re-signing of Saito solidifies the back end of the Dodgers' bullpen, which includes setup man Jonathan Broxton as well as Brett Tomko, Elmer Dessens and Joe Beimel. In addition, pitchers that might not make the starting rotation who would be candidates for the bullpen include Mark Hendrickson and Hong-Chih Kuo. Greg Miller will get a look in Spring Training, and the club is uncertain about the health of Yhency Brazoban, who is recovering from Tommy John elbow reconstruction.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.