On Wednesday, Chicago White Sox manager Robin Ventura named Hector Santiago as the White Sox closer. This was a bit surprising as Santiago didn't look to be in the mix for the closer role until late in spring training. For Matt Thornton, this could signal the beginning of the end with the White Sox.
Thornton had been floated in trade rumors during the offseason. The only concrete scenario, per the Chicago Sun-Times, granted, it was quickly shot down by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution via Twitter.
Still, Thornton remains an interesting trade item. He could garner attention from playoff contenders down the stretch. The snag with Thornton is that he costs a lot for a reliever.
The Cost Issue
Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe said of the 35-year-old reliever, "Thornton is a guy who other teams always have their eye on and wish he didn't make so much money (he has two years and $12 million left on his contract."
Thornton would cost somewhat less at the trade deadline. He'd have much of his 2012 salary paid for by then. Still, teams might be leery about paying a player around $8 million for a year and two months. To make matters more complex, Kenny Williams likely isn't willing to have the White Sox eat some of Thornton's contract.
The White Sox are in rebuilding mode, and Williams is trying to scale back the payroll. A team would have to see him as valuable enough to take on that salary.
Would Teams Want Thornton Enough to Pay Him?
Thornton just might still be good enough to warrant his salary. While his strikeout rate went down significantly from 2010 to 2011 (12 strikeouts per nine innings to 9.5), he still struck batters out at a high rate. Also, his velocity is still pretty good, as he tops out at 95 to 96 mph.
His walk rate went up each of the last two years, from 2.5 per nine innings in 2009 to 3.0 in 2010 to 3.2 in 2011.
The Three Rivers, Mich. native still keeps the ball down, even at U.S. Cellular Field, a home run ballpark. He allowed three home runs in each of the past two seasons and hasn't allowed more than five since joining the White Sox.
Also, Thornton puts in a good amount of work. He pitched 60 games in each of the last six seasons.
Thornton's value is certainly declining. Last season, he had a negative bWAR for the first time since 2005.
Still, a team that is looking for a hard thrower at the trade deadline could find Thornton to be their guy. He still throws heat and strikes out batters at a high rate.
Conclusion: Williams Will Push Hard to Deal Thornton at the Trade Deadline
White Sox fans could reasonably expect Thornton to be traded by the deadline. His role in the back of the bullpen is being surpassed by younger pitchers like Santiago and Addison Reed. Middle relief is too marginal a role for such an expensive reliever as Thornton.
Williams will surely make calls about deals involving Thornton in July. Teams in the playoff race will have their eyes on Thornton, and Williams will be asking them to pony up prospects. Look for him to ask for offensive prospects to replace Paul Konerko after his likely retirement after the 2013 season.
He might have to play easy with teams in trade talks, since Thornton isn't a cheap, rising talent.