Padres Cash In Linebrink For Three Prospects

The Deal

Two National League playoff contenders hooked up on a reliever-for-prospects trade Wednesday night, with the Brewers landing veteran Scott Linebrink and the Padres getting three young pitchers in return. Two of the prospects–righthander Will Inman (third round) and lefthander Steve Garrison (10th round)–were Milwaukee draft picks in 2005, while lefty Joe Thatcher was signed that year from the independent Frontier League.

The Big Leaguers

The Padres claimed Linebrink on waivers from the Astros in May 2003 and the righthander’s fortunes reversed dramatically. A middling reliever to that point in his career, Linebrink used his hard sinker, slider and splitter (with an assist from San Diego‘s Petco Park) to become one of the NL’s premier relievers from 2003-2006. Linebrink, 30, has struggled to repeat that success this season, as he’s posted a 3.80 ERA and blown six of seven save chances. More alarmingly, his strikeout rate has fallen off dramatically–from eight per nine innings last year to just five per nine this season. Linebrink is not signed beyond the season.

The Prospects

The centerpiece of the deal from San Diego’s perspective, Inman, 20, leads the minor leagues with 140 strikeouts, though he hadn’t yet broken through against Double-A competition (1-5, 5.45 in eight starts) like he had against A-ballers. He went 10-2, 1.71 with a 134-24 K-BB ratio for low Class A West Virginia in 2006, and followed that up by going 4-3, 1.72 with a 98-23 K-BB for high Class A Brevard County to begin this season. Though not overpowering, Inman, who was drafted from a Virginia high school, consistently commands his 89-92 mph fastball for strikes in any part of the zone. He complements the pitch with a two-plane slurve he’s trying to develop into a more conventional curveball, and he’s incorporating his changeup more each season. It’s that relative lack of secondary stuff, though, and his 6-foot frame that gives evaluators pause before forecasting Inman as a front-of-the-rotation starter.

Garrison, 20, attended the elite Hun School of Princeton, N.J., and is a smart, poised, athletic lefty who offers four pitches and a plan on how to attack hitters. The Brewers bought him out of a North Carolina commitment and gave him a bonus commensurate with fifth-round money. Garrison, who has gone 8-4, 3.44 with 74-28 K-BB in 105 innings for Brevard County, throws strikes with an 87-89 mph fastball and complements it with a slider, curve and changeup that all rate as average to a tick below. Like Inman, Garrison does not overpower hitters, so he can be susceptible to the long ball when he leaves the ball up.

Thatcher, the old man of this bunch at 25, has moved quickly to Triple-A since joining the Brewers in July 2005. Undrafted coming out of Indiana State in 2004, Thatcher has become well-suited for a lefty specialist’s role with his 88-91 mph fastball and sweeping slider from a low three-quarters slot. He has put up a .209/.277/.233 line against same-side batters this season.

Quick Take

With the emergence of Heath Bell and a sizable advantage in NL bullpen ERA–almost half a run, in fact–the Padres felt comfortable dealing from strength to acquire three young arms. And while Linebrink has been quite dependable, he also averaged 81 innings per season from 2003-2006, and it would only be natural for the Padres to wonder how many bullets he has left after his mediocre start to 2007. The Brewers, meanwhile, bolster their playoff chances against the hard-charging Cubs by adding a power reliever to go with closer Francisco Cordero and set-up man Derrick Turnbow.

" Trade Central 2007