Linebrink impressed by Sox approach
Reliever to serve as eighth-inning bridge to closer Jenks
Scott Linebrink knew that not every club was going to actively pursue relief pitching on the free-agent market this season -- especially when it came to those pitchers not in a closer role.But it didn't take long for the White Sox and general manager Kenny Williams to show Linebrink that a setup man like himself was exactly what they wanted. On a conference call the day after he signed a four-year, $19 million deal with the White Sox, the right-handed setup man said that three teams actively pursued him after he declared free agency. But it was the Sox aggressive approach, including Williams visiting the pitcher and his wife at their home in Texas, which won him over. "There are a lot of middle-market teams out there that aren't willing to spend money on the bullpen other than a closer," Linebrink said. "But I think Chicago falls into one of those teams that's willing to spend that kind of money." While nearly all contracts for free agents have skyrocketed in recent seasons, no position has seen prices inflate as quickly as relievers. In addition to Linebrink's four-year, $19 million deal this offseason, left-hander J.C. Romero inked a three-year, $12 million contract with the Phillies that includes an option for a fourth year. Some around the league view it as teams overpaying for bullpen arms, but Linebrink pointed out that he believes it's a sign people are now valuing the increased role of relievers in the game. "I think there are a lot of games that are won or lost in the sixth, sevent and eighth innings," Linebrink said. "It's important to have a bullpen that you can rely on, and it's not just one guy, either. You can't just have a closer or just a setup man. You got to have a long man, a lefty and plenty of guys that can come in the middle of an inning and bail you out of situations. Relievers are a big part of the game these days." Linebrink now becomes the primary eighth-inning setup man for the Sox, a spot that Mike MacDougal struggled in last season. Chicago certainly had trouble getting to closer Bobby Jenks in 2007, as the bullpen combined for a 5.47 ERA.
Coming off a disappointing '07 season himself in which he posted a 3.71 ERA over 71 combined games for the Padres and the Brewers, Linebrink said he's eager to turn things around with his new team. In what Williams described as a "blip" in Linebrink's career, the pitcher said his struggles last season weren't a result of anything mechanical or injury-related. Rather it was some off the field issues that caused Linebrink to lose focus for a period of time.Linebrink's wife, Kelly, was due to give birth to their first child shortly after he was traded from San Diego to Milwaukee in late July. The combination of being away from his family and adjusting to a new team was something Linebrink felt led to his struggles. "If you look back and break down last season, there was about a four-week period there where I really slumped," Linebrink said. "And it was right around the time that everything was happening. But if you look at the numbers toward the end of August and September, I rebounded and came back to finish strong." Getting a chance to have a better season is one thing that Linebrink is enthusiastic about, and the other is coming to a team he believes is headed in the right direction. "Chicago looked like [it] had a lot more pieces put in place for a winning season," Linebrink said. "I've heard a lot of good things about this clubhouse and I'm looking forward to being a part of it."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.