The big contract news on this fine Sunday of March 6th is that the White Sox have gone all pro-active on us, and extended Matt Thornton's contract through 2013, with a club option for 2014. When I say the big contract news for the day, I mean for the whole league, because--you're not going to believe this--March 6th is not a traditional big contract day.
The contract is being reported as 2 years, $12 million, but is really $5.5 for for the first two seasons, with a $1 million buyout if the team declines his 2014 option. If they accept it, he'll make $6 million in 2014.
My first reaction was "2 years, $12 million? That's Bobby Jenks money!" Given the choice between Jenks and Thornton, I think most would choose Thornton. Some might choose Jenks, but they would be incorrect.
Of course, it'd be just plain negligent to not raise the red flag of
age. Thornton will turn 35 years old this September, which is something
to be noted because, well, men don't play baseball for ever. The
biggest thing to look out for with age is a decline in velocity, and for
Thornton--a man who throws his fastball 90% of the time--a drop in
velocity could be disastrous.
But if there is a man who is a great bet to keep it rolling deep into his
30's, throwing heaters from a mound surrounded by discarded bottles of
Ensure and what not, it's Thornton. This is a cliche for the sport,
especially this time of year, but Thornton is as strong as ever.
averaged 96.1 mph on his fastball (best of his career), and the pitch
was 2.35 runs above average per 100 (best of his career). Matt aging is
the only possible downside of this contract, and it's a notion more
than it is an immediate threat. The upside could be pretty tremendous.
First, if there was any discontent on Thornton's end on not being signed
past this season, he wasn't showing it, and now it's been eviscerated.
A non-issue just became infinitely more of a non-issue. Banished
permanently into the realm of non-issueness.
Second, while $5.5 million isn't a pittance to give to a reliever, in
the wake of Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano, it's probably a fair
sight less than Thornton could fetch on the open market after another
Thornton-like season. By paying now, the White Sox almost certainly
reduced how much they'd have to pay to secure him later. And that's not
even to say how much Thornton would be worth if he became a full-on
closer. Which reminds me...
Third, Thornton has been notably campaigning for the closer job all season, which has been a thorn in the side of the optimized bullpen idea.
Matt's motivations for his campaign are unclear; it could be because
he knows closers make more money and this is his last chance to have a
huge payday. But it could also be because prefers a set role, or feels
like with Jenks gone, it's a job he deserves at this stage.
Being used in a way that takes money out of his pocket seems like the
thing he's most likely to get noticeably discontent about though, and that's gone.
Re-signing aging veterans may feel a little old hat for a lot of White Sox fans. But for a reasonable price on a proven performer with little reason to suspect a decline, this is a win. It solves way more problems than it has the possibility to cause.
It's important to have multiple takes on any issue, and that's definitely the case when voices as cogent as J.J. Stankevitz and Larry from South Side Sox are weighing in on the Thornton signing.
Confused? Annoyed? Read my stat primer. It's a fun read...at least as far as stat primers go.