Timlin excited to stick with Red Sox

Timlin excited to stick with Red Sox

BOSTON -- Free agency can mean a lot of things to a lot of different people. To Mike Timlin, the stalwart veteran reliever of the Red Sox, it means the freedom to stay in the place where you are happy.

For the second time in three years, Timlin didn't even go through the formality of letting other teams woo him. Instead, he quickly struck a one-year deal to remain in Boston in 2006, a season in which he will turn 40 before Opening Day.

If anything, Timlin has pitched better in the latter years of his career, giving the Red Sox every reason to think he'll once again be a stabilizing force in the bullpen.

"Usually if you enjoy the place you're playing in and you're doing well, there's no real reason in my eyes to change," Timlin said. "Sometimes people test the free agent market just to see what kind of offers are out there. When they do so, the club that they're on at the previous time takes that as a detrimental statement. I talked it over with my wife. We've had such success in Boston and we've enjoyed the city so much that we decided to go ahead and do everything we could to stay. It wasn't hard at all to get things done."

The negotiating was done mainly between Timlin and former Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein, who stepped down from his post on Monday.

When Timlin and Epstein had agreed to the new deal last week (it was officially completed Wednesday night), the right-hander was pretty confident that he would not have a new GM when he reported to Spring Training.

"It was shocking," said Timlin. "I had assumed when we had talked, we were pretty candid back and forth about our negotiations. Me knowing Theo for three years to the point where we can speak face to face, not so much player to front office personnel, but more person to person, he was pretty candid to me about how close he was to getting something done and he was very happy. He also mentioned some things that I'm not at liberty to say about.

"I guess whatever reason, that was his decision to not come back or accept their contract offer. I'm not real happy about it. I felt like we lost a tremendous person in Theo and a tremendous baseball mind, a young baseball mind that has done so many great things for this organization."

Timlin then demonstrated why he is a leader, choosing not to harp on Epstein's departure as a negative.

"I always look at the bright side," said Timlin. "I don't really deal with negatives very well. Usually change is for the better. You don't really realize it until it actually happens, like with the Nomar [Garciaparra] trade, nobody really wanted that to happen because Nomar was such a great player in Boston. When they did make the change, it was a good thing. Everybody was like, 'Oh my gosh, they shouldn't do this.' Well, they did it and it worked out to be the better thing. You don't really know what a change is actually going to do until it takes place and there's a couple of steps forward in the organization to see what happens."

While 2005 was, in general, a down year for the Boston bullpen, the same could not be said for Timlin. His third season with the Red Sox was his best.

He went 7-3 with 13 saves, 24 holds and a 2.24 ERA. His 81 appearances, a club record, ranked fifth in the American League. Timlin also ranked fifth in innings pitched with 80 1/3.

When Curt Schilling returned to the starting rotation in August, Timlin became the closer. Keith Foulke struggled in his return and then had a second surgery, so Timlin held down that role right through the postseason.

He plans on going back to his familiar setup role in 2006.

"I expect Foulke to come back and be as healthy as he should be and get the job done, be back to doing some of the same things we were doing at the beginning of the year and at the end of the year before that," said Timlin.

Timlin isn't sure what type of turnover the Red Sox will have next season. But there are two teammates in particular he hopes that management brings back.

"We would love Johnny [Damon] back," said Timlin. "Obviously, he has to negotiate his own contract and get back there. But he enjoyed playing in Boston and he was good there. He would like to remain and I would love to have him back as the center fielder, it would be a good thing for the Red Sox."

While there's been a lot of speculation that the team is ready to hand the keys to Kevin Youkilis at third base, Timlin hopes there is a solid effort made to keep the widely respected Bill Mueller in a Boston uniform.

"We need to have Bill Mueller back at third base," said Timlin. "I'm a very big advocate of Bill Mueller. He's a solid player."

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