The Braves kept wheeling and dealing on Friday, getting veteran reliever Scott Linebrink from the Chicago White Sox in a trade for minor league pitcher Kyle Cofield.
The White Sox will also send the Braves $3.5 million to offset Linebrink’s $5.5 million salary for the final season of the right-hander’s four-year, $19 million contract. He’ll cost the Braves only $2 million for 2011.
Although the 34-year-old setup man isn’t the dominant pitcher he was several years ago with San Diego, Linebrink was 3-2 with a 4.40 ERA in 52 appearances in 2010, and had 52 strikeouts with only 17 walks in 57-1/3 innings.
“His stuff is still good,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said. “He’s healthy, he’s solid, and he has [mental] makeup that’s off the charts. He had the kind of pedigree we were looking for in that role.
“We wanted a guy with some veteran leadership and a guy comfortable pitching in the last innings of a game, whether it’s the seventh, eighth or ninth.”
The move came a day after the Braves re-signed free agent outfielder Eric Hinske and 2-1/2 weeks after they traded for Silver Slugger second baseman Dan Uggla. Three days before baseball’s annual Winter Meetings begin in Orlando, the Braves have already filled their biggest offseason needs.
“It’s very different place to be than we’ve been in the last few years,” Wren said, “where we feel like most of the heavy lifting is done and we can focus on fine-tuning the team and seeing if there are other areas to improve.”
Wren will continue efforts to trade starting pitcher Kenshin Kawakami and possibly improve the bench depth.
Cofield, 24, was 25-26 with a 4.12 ERA in 118 games (82 starts) over six minor league seasons, none above the Double-A level. He had 342 strikeouts and a problematic 263 walks in 485 career innings, and wasn’t considered a top-level prospect in the Braves’ minor league system.
The Braves completed trades for Uggla and Linebrink without giving up any of their top pitching prospects.
“Cofield has ability,” Wren said, “but we have other guys now who have continued to rise up our list, and allows us to make a deal like this where it doesn’t impact our depth.”
Linebrink’s reputation was a big reason Wren mentioned to White Sox GM Kenny Williams last month that the Braves would be interested if the Sox wanted to move him. Williams called Wren on Thursday, and a deal was completed Friday morning.
The Braves’ bullen was one of baseball’s best in 2010. They lost closer Billy Wagner, who retired after the season, and 40-year-old setup man Takashi Saito, whose contact stipulated he be made a free agent after the season.
Wren said at the outset of the offseason that he would look for a reliever to assume the mentor role Wagner handled adroitly with young relievers including closer candidates Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters.
“Scott Linebrink fit to a T what we were looking for in this role,” Wren said.
Linebrink has pitched in at least 50 games the past three seasons for Chicago. His .262 opponents’ average in 2010 included .203 with runners in scoring position and .083 (1-for-12) with no walks when the bases were loaded.
His 11 home runs allowed were his second-most in 11 major-league seasons, the first eight of those years spent in the National League with San Francisco, Houston, San Diego and Milwaukee.
He has a 38-27 career record and 3.50 ERA, including NL marks of 30-16 with a 3.21 ERA in 384 games.