Cardinals Cloud Bullpen Situation by Signing Reliever Linebrink

The St. Louis Cardinals added another arm to their already full bullpen on Friday, signing veteran reliever Scott Linebrink to a minor-league deal with an invitation to spring training.

The move brings to seven the number of right-handed relievers in camp with a legitimate chance at claiming one of five spots on the opening day roster. Barring injury or trade, Linebrink, Kyle McClellan, Fernando Salas, Lance Lynn and Jason Motte are most likely to emerge as the opening day right-handed bullpen options, with Mitchell Boggs and Eduardo Sanchez the odd men out. Left-handers J.C. Romero and Marc Rzepczynski are virtual locks to fill two of the seven overall bullpen spots.

Linebrink is a veteran presence and an insurance policy for a young bullpen that lost Boggs, Lynn and Sanchez to injury last season, and saw McClellan and Salas deal with tired arms. Boggs and Sanchez will probably start the season in Memphis. Sanchez pitched only one game after June 12 last year due to a shoulder injury and will need to prove that he is fully recovered. When Boggs was healthy last year, he was inconsistent and appeared to suffer from a lack of confidence. The powerful 27-year-old may, however, beat out the less seasoned Lynn for the final bullpen spot.

The Redbirds were rumored to be shopping Kyle McClellan in hopes of signing Roy Oswalt and moving Jake Westbrook, who has a full no-trade clause in his contract, to the bullpen. The addition of Linebrink makes such a scenario unlikely, but might open the door for a trade package that would include Westbrook or Kyle Lohse and a reliever.

The fact that the Cardinals were able to sign Linebrink, who ranks fourth in ERA among active relievers with at least 600 appearances and had a solid 2011 season, to a minor league deal is a good indication that quality right-handed relievers aren’t currently in demand. Therefore, the likelihood of moving McClellan and his $2.5 million contract are slim.

Linebrink was 4-4 for the Braves last year with 3.64 ERA in 64 relief appearances. He struck out 42 in 54 1/3 innings, while walking 21. The 64 appearances were his most since the 2007 season.

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