It certainly appears that GM Kenny Williams is at least exploring the idea of blowing up his Chicago White Sox roster and rebuilding it in a new, younger, mold. Chicago is not expected to re-sign free agent left hander Mark Buehrle (who has been linked to the Texas Rangers, among others) and there are reports that both Gavin Floyd and John Danks could be dealt as well.
In addition to starting pitching, which was viewed as a strength of the White Sox team coming into 2011, Chicago is also entertaining offers for outfielder Carlos Quentin, and left handed reliever Matt Thornton.
While the Rangers wouldn’t be interested in Quentin, many rumors have the two-time defending AL Champs as possible landing spots for three of the four pitchers.
With Joe Nathan anchoring a bullpen that’s heavy on late-inning right handers, and a starting rotation that’s already full, Texas can afford to turn their attention to bolstering their left handed relief options and that’s where Thornton could come into play.
Last season, the Rangers acquired Mike Gonzalez to replace the ineffective Arthur Rhodes, but didn’t get many useful outings from either of the two. Darren Oliver, a stalwart of the Rangers’ ‘pen, like Gonzalez, is a free agent this winter and will play the 2012 season at age 41. It’s clear that even if Oliver were to re-sign in Texas, and that would be likely, the Rangers would benefit from having another southpaw to take some of the innings off Oliver’s workload.
If you’re going to be in the market for a southpaw, there aren’t many better than Thornton, as Ben Nicholson-Smith of MLBTR pointed out. Thornton features a mid-90s fastball and is not only adept at retiring left handers, but is almost equally effective versus right handed batters. Given the dearth of exciting lefties on the market, a contending club looking for a lefty in their bullpen would probably be better suited to try to work a trade this winter.
The White Sox began shopping Thornton at the trade deadline last July, but couldn’t find any takers. The issue certainly isn’t with performance, as Thornton has posted a 2.84 ERA in 260 innings over the past four years. In that time frame, the 35-year-old and averaged 10.7 strikeouts per nine innings while walking just 2.8 batters per nine. In addition, he rarely gives up the long ball, yielding just 16 home runs since the start of 2008.
The issue with Thornton is entirely contractual. Just months prior to placing their lefty squarely on the trading block, the White Sox awarded Thornton with a two-year extension that pays him $5.5 million per year in 2012 and 2013. Also included was a $6 million club option for 2014 that holds a $1 million buyout, so Thornton is guaranteed $12 million over the next two seasons.
The deal might have made sense at the time for Chicago, who had been planning on Thornton becoming their closer in 2011, but Thornton struggled early in that role and was replaced by Sergio Santos. If he’s a closer, $6 million a year isn’t all that much, but rare is the club that pays a middle reliever anything close to that kind of salary. So rare, in fact, that I’d guess Chicago will have to eat a good chuck of that $12 million in order to move him, no matter how good he is at his job.
The Rangers do have the financial resources to add Thornton to their roster, and if they were willing to pay the entire salary, could probably get him for a mid-level prospect or two. If Chicago is holding out hope for a better return on the trade while also getting full financial relief, Thornton will probably stay in the Windy City, but given the remaining talent pool from which to choose, my money is on Thornton winding up elsewhere.
Given the Rangers’ need and resources, this move makes a lot of sense should it happen.