Robbing the LineBRINK Truck

The San Diego Padres rescued Scott Linebrink off the scrap heap back in 2003 and he rewarded them in turn with roughly four years of valuable and reliable relief work. However, the greatest value that the Padres received from Linebrink’s tenure may have come from the 2007 trade that sent him to Milwaukee.

The Padres received three mid-level prospects from the Brewers in return for Linebrink’s services and one of those pitchers – Will Inman – is proving that he may turn out to be a steal. The other two are not half bad either.

Inman was originally selected out of a Virginia high school in the third round of the 2005 draft. Prior to the trade, Inman had always posted solid minor league numbers but at 6-1, 210 pounds he does not possess an ideal pitcher’s frame, which causes him to get overlooked. Since the trade, though, Inman has made sure people cannot overlook him any longer.

In seven starts in 2007 after the trade, Inman posted a 4.17 ERA in seven starts (41 innings) at Double-A San Antonio, which is a pretty good hitters’ park. He allowed 7.24 H/9 and posted an 8.78 K/9 rate. He struggled a bit with his control and allowed 4.17 BB/9.

Inman, 21, has been even better in 2008 with a return to San Antonio. In eight starts (43.2 innings) he has allowed 5.98 H/9 and has posted a 9.07 K/9 rate. Walks are still a bit of an issue with a rate of 3.71 BB/9. Over his four-year career, the right-hander now has an impressive line of 6.50 H/9, 2.80 BB/9, and 10.42 K/9. He should see Triple-A soon, and possibly the majors by the end of the season.

Southpaws Joe Thatcher and Steve Garrison were the other pitchers obtained by San Diego in the trade. Thatcher is the only one of the trio who has already appeared in the majors for San Diego. He was originally signed out of an independent baseball league after he had a poor final season at Indiana State University in 2004.

Once traded to San Diego, Thatcher, 27, posted a 1.04 ERA in eight Triple-A games and was called up to the majors. In his first taste of Major League Baseball, the lefty posted a 1.29 ERA in 22 games (21 innings) and allowed 5.57 H/9. He opened the 2008 season in the San Diego pen but was recently shipped back to Triple-A after posting a 6.75 ERA in 16 games (17.1 innings) and allowing 12.98 H/9.

Garrison, 21, was originally selected by Milwaukee out of a New Jersey high school in the 10th round of the 2005 amateur draft. He posted solid numbers through A-ball, as well as a 2.79 ERA in High-A Lake Elsinore after the trade in 2007. In 42 innings, he allowed 6.68 H/9 and posted rates of 1.29 BB/9 and 6.00 K/9.

In 2008 at Double-A San Antonio, Garrison has a 4.30 ERA in six starts (29.1 innings) and has allowed 8.90 H/9. He has struggled with his rates at 3.99 BB/9 and 5.52 K/9 and is probably headed for a future as a middle reliever or LOOGY.

So what did Linebrink do for Milwaukee? After he provided three straight seasons of 70-plus appearances between 2004 and 2006, Linebrink appeared in 27 games (25.1 innings) for Milwaukee and won two games, while losing three. He posted a 3.55 ERA. After that, though, the former second round pick of the San Francisco Giants filed for free agency and signed a lucrative contract with the Chicago White Sox.

In other words, the Brewers traded three pitchers – two of whom are left-handed – who could all easily pitch in a major league bullpen for 25 innings of middle relief. On the plus side, the Brewers will receive a supplemental first round pick (35th overall) and a second round pick (54th overall) for losing Linebrink to Chicago. Regardless, chalk one up for the Padres. If only they could draft as well as they trade.

Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.

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Linebrink did make 71 appearances in 2007, but only 27 for the Brewers since he was traded in late July. This doesn’t affect the point but it seemed implied that he didn’t make 70-plus appearances in 2007.