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Year Three Key For New White Sox Reliever Jesse Crain

After letting things quiet down a bit following his red-hot winter meetings spending spree, Chicago White Sox GM Kenny Williams fired up his money machine again earlier this week by reportedly signing former Minnesota Twins reliever Jesse Crain to a three-year contract, worth about $13 million. Relief pitchers being the volatile commodity that they are, many Sox fans understandably grimaced at the length of the deal. But for a team essentially going "all in," fortifying the bullpen with a veteran right-hander was a "must do" with the departure of Scott Linebrink (traded to the Atlanta Braves) and Bobby Jenks (not tendered a contract). And, as Crain, who will be 29 years old on Opening Day, told a Minnesota radio station yesterday, that third year was key:

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They pulled the trigger and were willing to [give me three years instead of two], where other teams were reluctant. That's the biggest thing that got me to go there.
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The length and amount of the contract contrasts sharply with the well-publicized signing of Kerry Wood by the Chicago Cubs for a mere one year and $1.5 million. But that particular deal was a "hometown discount" of epic proportions and not really representative of the reliever market as a whole. You can, at least in part, thank the Detroit Tigers for setting the tone of said market by signing Joaquin Benoit to a three-year, $16.5 million (could rise to $19.5 million in value) contract way back in mid-November.

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Former White Sox closer Jenks also benefitted from it, getting a two-year, $12 million deal from the Boston Red Sox that was announced yesterday. Jenks isn't expected to surmount closer Jonathan Papelbon -- unless the team trades the glowering, loud-mouthed hurler. But that appears doubtful. Jenks will likely be used as a middle reliever and occasional set-up guy behind extreme fireballer Daniel Bard.

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Getting back to Crain, he'll need to maintain his career-high strikeout rate from 2010 as well as the generally low number of home runs he's allowed throughout his career to have a decent shot at fulfilling the high value of his new deal. But, again, the White Sox are a team clearly intent on storming the gates of the AL Central in 2011. So they'll live with an additional year for a somewhat questionable reliever to immediately stabilize their 'pen.