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Sox, Dotel finalize South Side deal

Sox, Dotel finalize South Side deal

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CHICAGO -- Some time around early November, while making an appearance at one of Don Cooper's local pitching camps, Bobby Jenks spoke of his view on serving as the now traditional one-inning sort of closer.

"I'm not ready to be the one-inning guy yet," said Jenks, with a broad smile, letting shine through his background as a starting pitcher. "I like to pitch and want to work as much as I can. That's just my mentality, so I want to be out there. That's how I love it."

It's one thing for the hard-throwing 26-year-old to want to be out on the mound, pitching two or three innings at a time or three or four days in a row. But it's a completely different dynamic for manager Ozzie Guillen to be forced into using Jenks because most everyone else had struggled in front of the right-hander. That situation played out on more than one occasion during the 2007 season, in which the bullpen ranked 12th in the American League with a collective 5.47 ERA.

Moving into the 2008 campaign, though, general manager Ken Williams appears to have presented Guillen with a few, vastly improved relief options. After signing free agent Scott Linebrink to a four-year, $19 million deal as the team's primary right-handed setup man, another veteran power arm was added to the late-inning mix on Tuesday with the signing of Octavio Dotel.

Dotel and the White Sox agreed to a two-year, $11 million deal, a rumor that took root as early as last Friday. Dotel will earn $5 million in 2008 and $6 million in 2009, giving the White Sox a trio of seasoned pros to get the ball to one of the game's top closers.

"Whatever they need to get the ball to Bobby because he's one of the best in the game," said Matt Thornton, the left-hander who figures to be mixed into late-inning setup situations with Linebrink and Dotel. "It's really exciting to be a part of this. If he's healthy, Dotel has a great track record, and Linebrink, with his sinker, is one of the better setup men around."

"We wanted to make sure we had a bridge to get the ball to Bobby," Williams added. "Now, I believe we have multiple options, with Dotel, Linebrink, and I expect Thornton and [Mike] MacDougal to rebound from disappointing years. We feel good about the quality and depth of our bullpen, and we feel good about the ability to not tax Jenks to a point to where we wear him down and it ultimately becomes a potential health hazard."

Coming off right elbow surgery in 2005, which limited him to 25 1/3 innings combined over the 2005 and 2006 seasons, Dotel posted a 2-1 record, 4.11 ERA and 11 saves between Kansas City and Atlanta in 2007. Since 1957, he ranks fifth among Major League relief pitchers with an average of 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings. Brad Lidge (12.6), Rob Dibble (12.17), Francisco Rodriguez (11.97) and Billy Wagner (11.84) are the only relievers who rank higher. Dotel also has limited opposing hitters to a .218 average over nine seasons.

An oblique problem, which was muscular but also stretched into Dotel's right shoulder, limited his previous season's workload. But Williams said that Dotel passed the MRIs and physical exams with flying colors, giving the White Sox reason to believe he will be worth the money spent.

"If you can assess he will be healthy and return to normal production, then money is secondary to getting the team the best it can possibly be," Williams said.

Along with the Dotel deal, the White Sox announced the official signing of infielder/outfielder Alexei Ramirez to a four-year, $4.75 million deal. The free-agent signing of the Cuban exile originally was reported in late December.

Ramirez, 26, receives a $500,000 signing bonus and will earn $950,000 in 2008 and $1.1 million in each season from 2009-11. He finished with a .334 average, 73 home runs and 328 RBIs over 521 games for Pinar del Rio in the Cuban League from 2001-07 and has the ability to play second base, shortstop and center field.

"Shortstop is probably, that's the one he likes the most," said Williams of Ramirez's versatility. "But he's quick to tell you, and we have seen first-hand, how good of a center fielder he is.

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"To get the best out of someone, you eventually have to lock him in. But I don't know if we will lock him in during Spring Training, if he makes the club."

Second base could be the strongest White Sox fit for Ramirez, who gives the team a number of options. They are the sort of on-field options that can shape Guillen's final roster, including whether the White Sox manager keeps six or seven relievers.

Tuesday's addition leaves the White Sox with four bullpen locks and MacDougal as a fairly certain fifth reliever. Even after the dismal 6.80 ERA produced by MacDougal in 2007, Williams remains confident the right-hander can succeed in a less-pressurized role.

"Sure. Mike MacDougal has some of the best stuff in the league," said Williams of MacDougal, who allowed 83 baserunners over 42 1/3 innings last season. "All he has to do is throw more quality strikes."

Young options such as Boone Logan, Ehren Wasserman, Nick Masset, Adam Russell, Dewon Day and Charlie Haeger will compete to fill the final slot or two. To make room for Dotel and Ramirez on the 40-man roster, the White Sox designated right-handed reliever David Aardsma for assignment.

Aardsma was part of the high-octane group of arms which broke camp from Tucson last April and came up well short in the long run. With memories of last year's problems in mind, Thornton has his high level of excitement for the latest version of the bullpen tempered until the results shine through during actual game action.

"Look at what happened last year," Thornton said. "If I would have said in Spring Training that we were going to have the offense we had, you would have laid a chunk of money against that. There's no way we were going to be that bad. The same could be said for the bullpen.

"So, I don't want to assess what's going to happen. I know it sounds like a cliche, but we just have to take one day at a time. We have to start Day 1 in Spring Training and don't let up until the postseason."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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