In Monday’s bullpen reshuffling, much of the focus was on the Dodgers re-signing Ryan Brasier (though that reported two-year deal is not yet official) and the trading of Caleb Ferguson to the Yankees. The Dodgers got another left-hander back in that three-player trade with New York in Matt Gage.
Ferguson had the second-highest average leverage index in the Dodgers bullpen last season, behind only closer Evan Phillips. Ferguson with five years of service time cannot be sent to the minors without his consent, and perhaps the Dodgers desired more roster flexibility from that section of the bullpen depth chart.
With the Dodgers almost certainly set to exceed the fourth and highest competitive balance tax threshold, shedding Ferguson’s $2.4 million salary meant trimming $5.04 million off the payroll, counting in the 110-percent tax levied on any amount over $297 million. The Dodgers current payroll estimate for 2024 is at roughly $304.4 million, and that’s before adding in Brasier (likely $4.5 million) and Clayton Kershaw (TBA).
But what they get in Gage is a well-traveled, 6’3, 265-pound left-hander who pitched in the majors in each of the last two years.
The Dodgers are the seventh MLB organization for Gage, and the fourth in the last 12 months. He reached the majors with the Blue Jays in 2022, then was claimed off waivers by the Astros last February 13. He was designated for assignment on January 22 when Houston signed Josh Hader, then the Yankees claimed Gage on waivers a week later.
Getting traded to the Dodgers made for three straight Monday transactions for the left-hander.
But it goes beyond that. Gage was drafted by the Giants in the 10th round in 2014 out of Siena College, then spent parts of five seasons in the minors with San Francisco. After getting released by the Giants, Gage spent the final month of 2018 in the minors with the Mets, and also made a start for Sugar Land, then an independent team in the Atlantic League.
He signed a minor league deal with the Rockies in 2019, but ended up pitching for Diablos Rojos in the Mexican League that season, then pitched for Mazatlan in the Mexican Winter League in the 2020-21 and 2021-22 offseasons. During the COVID season of 2020 with no minor leagues, Gage pitched for Eastern in the independent Constellation Energy League, before joining the Diamondbacks in the minors in 2021.
That’s 16 different teams in 15 different cities over the last decade, and that’s before his week with the Yankees and trade to the Dodgers this year. Gage and his wife, who just welcomed their first child on January 5, have been used to a nomadic lifestyle.
“We live day by day. Me and my wife do. My wife’s been with me through this entire process ever since I got drafted and when I was in college,” Gage told Mark Singleais at the Albany Times Union in New York last week. “So we’ve kind of become accustomed to, all right, let’s plan for today and see what happens and we can make some plans down the road. We know that a phone call here or a phone call there could send everything that we just planned for a loop and we have to make the most of it.”
Gage pitched in the majors with Toronto in 2022 and for the Astros in 2023, totaling just 19⅔ innings in his 16 relief appearances. The results were pretty good, with a 1.83 ERA with 20 strikeouts and nine walks. He has a 3.97 FIP over the two years, though his xERA was 3.03 in 2022 and 3.43 in 2023.
So far in the majors, Gage threw his fastball a little more than half the time, with the cutter his next-most-prolific pitch, plus an occasional slider. Against left-handed batters, Gage in MLB threw exactly as many cutters as fastballs. This is how Gage described his four-seamer, to Michael Shapiro of the Houston Chronicle in February 2023:
It’s the shape of Gage’s fastball that’s the key to his effectiveness. Gage said Thursday his fastball has “kind of ‘invisi-ball’ feel” in which he generates significant vertical ride on the pitch. Gage said his fastball usually rises between 17 to 20 inches in games, though in workouts with Houston, Gage has already notched 23 inches on his vertical ride.
Pitching all over the place, including in Mexico, made Gage more open to new ideas about his approach to pitching.
From Arden Zwelling at SportsNet in Toronto in June 2022, shortly after Gage made his major league debut at age 29:
“In years past, I was always told to move the ball around. But I felt like I was falling behind a lot,” Gage says. “This year, it’s just attack and throw that first pitch in the middle. Because most likely you’re not throwing that ball middle-middle. And if you’re aiming middle and you miss a little bit, you’re still in the zone.”
Gage found success against left-handers over the last two years, in both the majors and minors. We’re only talking about 27 plate appearances for lefty batters against Gage in the majors in 2022-23, but he struck out a third of them, holding lefties to two singles in 19 at-bats with five walks and a hit batter.
In the minors the last two years, totaling 75 games and 79⅔ innings between Buffalo and Sugar Land in Triple-A, Gage has faced left-handed batters in 134 plate appearances, holding them to a paltry .143/.187/.222 line with a 39.6-percent strikeout rate with only seven walks.
Right-handers, however, have hit Gage to the tune of .301/.393/.455 with a 17.6-percent strikeout rate and 12-percent unintentional walk rate. in the majors and minors over the last two seasons. In the majors alone, right-handed batters have hit .222/.280/.400 against Gage, though that only covers 50 plate appearances.
Gage was optioned to Triple-A three separate times in 2022 with Toronto, and optioned three more times during the 2023 season with Houston. He has one option year remaining, which means he could very well keep the up-and-down trend going in 2024 with the Dodgers.