Matt Thornton has been a very good hurler for the Chicago White Sox for several seasons. He has been a constant presence in a bullpen that has languished at times in the past decade, bringing heat and striking out batters left and right. However, time is coming for Kenny Williams to make the most of Thornton's trade value while he appears to be worth something.
Williams had put Thornton on the block after last season. He shopped Thornton around the time of the winter meetings in December. One rumor involving Thornton going to the Atlanta Braves came up, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution quickly shot it down via Twitter.
Since then, no rumors have surfaced involving the eight-year veteran.
The Time Is Now to Trade Thornton
Williams needs to make calls again to try to trade Thornton. Thornton, 35, is steadily declining. His walks per nine innings rate has risen each of the last two years. His strikeouts per nine innings rate dropped significantly last season (from 12 per nine innings to 9.5 per nine innings). He had more hits allowed than innings pitched for the first time since 2007.
His ERA jumped 0.65 from 2010 to 2011 (from 2.67 to 3.32).
In 2011, Thornton had a negative wins above replacement for the first time since 2005.
After being that strikeout pitcher who could blind batters with a 98- to 100-miles per hour fastball, Thornton's become a relatively human reliever. His fastball has fallen to 95 miles per hour. After allowing 3.2 walks per nine innings last season, the White Sox might be a bit concerned about his control.
Still, Thornton has some trade value. He can be a decent setup guy. Even though his fastball isn't as fast as it used to be, Thornton can still get by with it. He still strikes batters out at a high rate. With 20 career saves, Thornton can occasionally fill in in save situations.
Also, teams can look to the fact that Thornton is only two years removed from an All-Star appearance.
What Can the White Sox Get for Thornton?
Williams can easily demand a major league player for Thornton. Thornton is still good enough to bring a real player in a trade. A reliever-for-reliever swap seems realistic. The White Sox could use help in the bullpen. Addison Reed is the likely closer. Besides Jesse Crain, the White Sox don't have much to like in the bullpen.
Another possibility is finding a backup corner infielder who can get on base. The White Sox were eighth in on-base percentage last season. If Paul Konerko shows his age and Adam Dunn doesn't bounce back, then the White Sox won't have anyone who can get on base on a regular basis. That's why they signed Kosuke Fukudome.
Also, signing a young backup corner infielder would prepare the White Sox for the post-Konerko era. Konerko, 36, indicated a desire to retire after the 2012 season in an interview with Comcast SportsNet Chicago. The White Sox will need to be ready to find someone who can start at first base and get on base after Konerko retires.
Conclusion: The White Sox Are Running Out of Time with Thornton
The White Sox need to trade Thornton before they're looking at an old, expensive reliever who isn't effective. Thornton doesn't throw heat like he used to and his control isn't quite as good. The White Sox don't want to hang on to Thornton until he can't hit the strike zone anymore.
Moreover, this is an important rebuilding trade to make. Thornton will make $5.5 million for each of the next two seasons. Not only would Williams get the White Sox younger by trading Thornton, but he would also unload a significant contract. Getting a young corner infielder for a old, expensive reliever would help the rebuilding process that much.
Williams needs to move Thornton before the season begins. If Thornton struggles, he won't be worth anything at the trade deadline. Then, Williams would be stuck with a troubling contract.