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Reliever Timlin is all set

One of Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein's objectives this offseason is to shore up a bullpen that was a cause for concern most of last season, and while Oakland A's closer Keith Foulke's name has surfaced as someone in the free agent market who might fill the Sox' needs, Epstein decided his first order of business should be re-signing setup man Mike Timlin.

Yesterday, the Sox officially announced Timlin had re-upped with the team, signing a one-year deal worth $2.5 million with an option for 2005 valued at $2.75 million that kicks in if he appears in at least 50 games and is not on the disabled list at the end of the 2004 season.

It seems like a fair deal for Timlin, who earned $1.8 million last season, and the team for a reliever considered the Sox' most consistent last season. Timlin appeared in 72 games in 2003 with a 3.55 ERA, second on the team to Pedro Martinez (2.22). Timlin also pitched 9 2/3 scoreless innings in the postseason.

Timlin was attending a conference with his wife in Texas and was unavailable for comment.

Epstein, on a brief conference call from Phoenix, where he was waiting to board a flight home from the general managers' meetings, did not rule out Timlin closing games next season even at age 38, though he said, "I wouldn't anoint him that, either."

Regardless, Timlin will join Scott Williamson and Alan Embree as part of the bullpen mix.

"The most likely scenario is that he will fulfill the role he had in 2003, pitching very important innings and stabilizing our bullpen," said Epstein. "I wouldn't rule out anything for Mike."

Epstein also made it clear that he has plans for Byung Hyun Kim to be a starter, which was a strong statement that Kim will not be let go, as has been speculated.

The Sox GM admitted to making a mistake last year by entering the offseason with plans of having a bullpen by committee, but he still believes a team's best reliever should not necessarily pitch the ninth inning.

"I believe that the best pitcher should pitch the most important innings," Epstein said.

He felt Timlin was not only a strong performer, but that "when things looked bleak, that's when he was the most positive. There were times he seemed to pick the bullpen up by its bootstraps by himself." He also "willed the bullpen to success at times."

Timlin's postseason success certainly was a big part of the reason he was re-signed, but Epstein said, "I think it's a mistake to put too much significance on a small sample size. It [the playoffs] just confirmed what we already knew about Mike: that he was capable of dominating over long stretches and doing it when it matters most."

Epstein added, "Mike thrives under the spotlight in Boston. He's a key member of our ball club on and off the field." . . .

Epstein is expected to be back to work at Fenway today. On his agenda is the continuing search for a new manager. Epstein, who has already interviewed Dodgers third base coach Glenn Hoffman, A's bench coach Terry Francona, and Angels bench coach Joe Maddon, said the Sox will comply with commissioner Bud Selig's wishes that teams interview minority candidates . . . The Sox will announce their full 2004 spring training schedule today. They will open with a day-night doubleheader against Boston College and Northeastern. The Sox will also play the world champion Florida Marlins and host the Dodgers for the first time in Fort Myers.

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