White Sox seal deal with Linebrink
Former Padres, Brewers reliever agrees to four-year deal
There were a few areas on the White Sox roster that general manager Kenny Williams wanted to shake up following a disappointing 72-90 season in 2007. At the top of that list was the club's bullpen.
Williams may have shown just how intent he was on solidifying the bullpen with his latest signing. In a deal that was first reported last week, the White Sox officially announced Wednesday that they had agreed to terms with right-handed setup man Scott Linebrink on a four-year, $19 million contract.
Under the terms of the contract, Linebrink will receive $4 million in 2008, $4.5 million in 2009, $5 million in 2010 and $5.5 million in 2011. It's a deal that some in the industry felt was yet another instance of a reliever being overpaid.
But Williams said that he got the man he wanted.
"When you look at the rest of the free-agent market of relievers, as well as the trade market, there just isn't a whole lot out there that excites me," Williams said. "This is a guy that we've had our eyes on for the past few years."
Linebrink, 31, posted a 3.71 ERA over 71 games in total for the Padres and the Brewers in 2007. Over his eight-year career, Linebrink has a 30-16 record with a 3.21 ERA in 442 2/3 innings for four different National League teams. This will be his first stint in the American League.
This wasn't the first time that the White Sox sought out Linebrink. Williams was so interested in the right-hander that he even attempted to acquire him in a trade with San Diego last July. Instead, Linebrink was dealt by the Padres to Milwaukee.
"I actually thought we had him at the break last year," Williams said. "But sometimes these things take time."
Linebrink will now take over the primary setup role that had previously belonged to Mike MacDougal. The hope is that Linebrink can be the man in the eighth inning to bridge the gap to closer Bobby Jenks, something MacDougal could not do last season as he struggled to a 6.80 ERA.
MacDougal's woes were one example of just how bad things were for Sox relievers. The White Sox bullpen combined for a 5.47 ERA, the worst collective mark for the ballclub since at least '57.
Whether Linebrink will be the answer to the problems remains to be seen. Following a career year in 2005, when he had a 1.83 ERA over 73 2/3 innings, Linebrink saw his ERA rise to 3.57 and 3.71 over the past two seasons. The right-hander allowed 12 home runs last season, after giving up a total of 13 the previous two years.
Williams said that despite Linebrink's recent troubles, he believes the right-hander has the stuff to be successful at U.S. Cellular Field, a ballpark not known for being a pitcher's park.
"He still has that plus fastball and he has sink," Williams said. "He's realized that he has to use more of that sink in Chicago than he had to use it in PETCO [Park]... When he has his stuff on, he can pitch anywhere, with anybody."
The signing of Linebrink is the second significant move of the offseason for Williams and it was made possible by his first. Last week, the White Sox GM sent pitcher Jon Garland to the Angels in return for shortstop Orlando Cabrera. With the reported $1.5 million the White Sox received as part of the trade, along with salary differential between the two players, Williams said the club viewed it from the beginning to be a Garland for Cabrera and Linebrink deal.
"We got the reliever we wanted, the No. 2 spot [in the order] taken care of, and we got smarter at that [shortstop] position," Williams said. "'Where we are today is in a good place, going into the Winter Meetings.''
But the White Sox haven't filled all their needs just yet. Williams had hoped to secure center fielder Torii Hunter before heading to Nashville, but that fell through when Hunter signed a five-year, $90 million contract with the Angels last Wednesday night. It was a situation reminiscent of one the White Sox dealt with three years ago, when they lost out on free-agent shortstop Omar Vizquel and one that seems to have equally disappointed Williams.
"First part, I'll let you know when I get over that,'' Williams responded when asked about Hunter's signing. ''Second part is, you go into this knowing full well that your greatest desires are rarely realized. You have to have a plan, a direction, and go down your list.''
One additional need that the Sox might now have is for another middle infielder, especially if the club deals shortstop Juan Uribe. To make room for Linebrink on the 40-man roster, the White Sox put infielder Alex Cintron on waivers, which he cleared, making him a free agent. It's a move that was expected as Cintron, who was arbitration-eligible, batted just .243 last season. Outfielder Scott Podsednik, who was designated for assignment last week, also cleared waivers Wednesday and officially became a free agent.
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.