White Sox Extend Thornton

When looking at Matt Thornton‘s career with the Chicago White Sox, it’s hard to believe he was acquired for Joe Borchard. Both players had fallen out of favor with their teams at the time of the trade, and both have since gone in very different directions. Under the tutelage of Don Cooper, Matt Thornton has blossomed into one of the best relievers in the game. While Bobby Jenks was the most recognizable name in the White Sox bullpen, Thornton has been the better pitcher over the last three seasons. Thornton’s dominance hasn’t gone unnoticed by the White Sox, who signed him to a two-year, $12 million extension Sunday. Despite his age, Thornton has yet to show any signs of decline, making this contract a huge win for the White Sox.

The extension ensures Thornton’s place on the White Sox through the 2013 season. Following the 2013 season, the White Sox hold a $6 million club option. The extension, however, won’t kick in until after the 2011 season; meaning Thornton will only make $3 million this year. If the marginal value of a win is $5 million, it’s easy to see why the White Sox would extend Thornton.

Over the past three seasons, Thornton has averaged 2.2 WAR. During those seasons, however, the White Sox have only paid him $4.45 million in total, making him one of the better bargains in baseball. By paying Thornton $5.5 million in 2012 and 2013, the White Sox need Thornton to post a little over 1 WAR in those seasons to justify the contract. Since he’s been a member of the White Sox, Thornton has never posted a season with a sub-1 WAR.

Thornton, however, isn’t the youngest member of the White Sox pen. At 34, Thornton isn’t the safest bet to continue his dominance over the course of the extension. For a pitcher who relies so much on velocity, his decline phase could be drastic if he can’t adapt. At the same time, Thornton hasn’t shown any signs of decline over the past three seasons. His strikeout rate jumped to 12.02 last season, while his ERA, FIP, and xFIP all dropped to career lows. Perhaps more importantly, his fastball velocity was up last season (from 95.7 to 96.1), proving his signature skill hasn’t diminished.

Since Thornton agreed to the extension, there has been a lot of talk about whether he is now the favorite to take over the closer role this season. Thornton has mainly been a set-up man throughout his career, and that may be one of the main reasons this deal is such a bargain for the White Sox. Despite the fact that Thornton was the better pitcher over the past three seasons, Bobby Jenks still managed to sign for more money this off-season due to his “experience” as a closer. As the White Sox “relief ace,” Thornton pitched at the most crucial moments in a game instead of racking up saves, which likely held his cost down. The White Sox employed Thornton in an ideal manner over the past three seasons, and it has allowed them to save money over the course of his extension.

The White Sox slogan for the upcoming season is “All In,” and the Thornton extension is a major reason why the Sox have been able to add big contracts recently. By signing their current players to contracts under the market value; the White Sox have been able to overpay to keep fan-favorites like Paul Konerko, while simultaneously absorbing the costs of Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Jake Peavy. With the extension, the White Sox locked up one of the best relief pitchers in baseball on the cheap. It’s moves like these that allow the White Sox to take on big risks each season while still managing to field a competitive team.

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Chris is a blogger for CBSSports.com. He has also contributed to Sports on Earth, the 2013 Hard Ball Times Baseball Annual, ESPN, FanGraphs and RotoGraphs. He tries to be funny on twitter @Chris_Cwik.

23 Responses to “White Sox Extend Thornton”

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  1. Josh says:

    I think the most amazing thing about Thornton is that he has managed to lower his FIP each of the past 5 seasons. That’s just ridiculous.

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    • Albert Lyu says:

      Speaking of upwards trends, his strikeout rates:

      2006: 8.17 K/9
      2007: 8.79 K/9
      2008: 10.29 K/9
      2009: 10.82 K/9
      2010: 12.02 K/9

      Not that I expect him to post Marmollian numbers at ages 34-35. Still, pretty a-freaking-mazing.

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  2. Sox27 says:

    When I heard the terms of this deal my jaw hit the floor. Considering the overpaying KW has done on his bullpen in recent years (Dotel, Linestink, and this year Crain), it really astounds me that the Sox were able to sign the best lefty middle reliever in baseball at such favorable terms. Big thumbs up KW.

    As far as his role, I would like to see Thornton to be used the way he has since arriving with the Sox. The idea of locking him in as “the 9th inning guy” is such a waste.

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  3. the fume says:

    Unless you’re the Yankees, isn’t (essentially) 3 years at $6 per the going rate for good middle relievers? This is about what I’d expect.

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    • Jono411 says:

      1) it’s only 2 years, not 3 years
      2) thornton’s not a “good middle reliever” – he’s an elite reliever, definitely top ten in the game. closers tend to be getting ~10M per year on multi-year deals, so this is a solid discount for the white sox.

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      • Chris Cwik says:

        “closers tend to be getting ~10M per year on multi-year deals, so this is a solid discount for the white sox.”

        That’s another reason I love the deal for the Sox. If Thornton winds up being the closer this season, he would’ve been able to demand a much higher deal on the free agent market. The Sox struck before he accumulated saves, which teams will pay for on the market.

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  4. Sox27 says:

    I think when you’ve seen Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier, and a few other guys getting deals slightly below that while not nearly being as effective, it’s interesting. I think so anyway.

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  5. Big Jgke says:

    Seriously, even with all the organizational wackiness, are there any teams outside of Toronto, Atlanta, Boston and the Bronx that wouldn’t immediately take Kenny Williams as their GM?

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    • Jono411 says:

      rays, twins, A’s, probably some others…

      but yea i get your point. it seems that so many of williams moves get criticized by the sabermetrics community (this extension aside), yet his teams keep doing well. there’s gotta be something to that.

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      • Big Jgke says:

        Right, an incomplete list no doubt, but for the nerd love the Oakland front office has gotten following the release of the book they wrote about themselves, I would rather have Williams than Beane. Easy.

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      • Stringer Bell says:

        Billy Beane is not the same person as Michael Lewis.

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    • Steve says:

      Plenty. Over the last 5 years he’s spent about 105 million a year to average just under 84 wins. There’s nothing impressive about that. Yes, having the WS trophy is impressive, no doubt about it, but he’s been solidly mediocre since then. Not screwing up an extension for Thornton doesn’t make him a genius.

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      • james k says:

        you are kind of cherry picking five years. he’s been gm for ten . if you include six years the average jumps to 86. any educated fan knows wins/loss has much to do with divisional strength, luck, and a host of other things. i haven’t taken the time to look at the white sox Pythagorean but i imagine that would shed more light on their actual performance. Also, a gm makes decisions as to who is on the field, but can’t be held responsible for managerial gaffes or poor player performance. kenny makes big moves that have generally payed off.

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      • Steve says:

        The point was that he’s still living off reputation despite doing very little since winning the WS. The White Sox have actually been hitting their Pythagorean W-L almost exactly. 2010 was the first year since 2005 that they there was any difference, according to B-ref. Kenny makes big moves alright, he spends a ton of money, but the results since the WS have been mediocre. Since we’re comparing him to St. Beane, he’s spent an extra 225 million or so over the last 5 years to get 4 more wins per year, the exact same number of playoff appearances, and 2 fewer playoff wins. Congratulations on being mini-Cashman.

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    • baty says:

      If Thornton’s contract allows him to, you hope for him to be a strong trade piece when the time comes for Kenny to scavenge through the league’s fallen first round pitching talents as the rotation depletes.

      In the next 2 years, Kenny’s GM weaknesses might finally become prominent. The post July 2012 state of the organization could begin plummeting towards Houston Astros territory… It’s going to take some genius creativity to fix things up…

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  6. Sox27 says:

    Since the juicers (Giambi, Tejada and I believe Chavez to be one) left Oakland along with the Big 3, what have the A’s done? Yet, everyone still loves Beane.

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  7. Chad says:

    I’ve never posted here before, but Sox27 is an idiot and I felt it needed to be said.

    KW is solid, by the way. The Nick Swisher thing was weird, but he’s an asset for Chicago and not a problem.

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    • Pander says:

      Why the hate for Sox27? His first comment was spot-on correct. His second was accurate enough. His third was unrelated to the topic (Thornton/Sox) and a bit incoherent, but that much bile for him over that?

      I’m guessing he’s posted elsewhere here to earn your ire?

      I love this deal, as an aside. He’s seemed relatively injury-free with no decline in performance. His gameplan is dead simple: locate a fastball very well again and again and again, and it’s within his means.

      Good buy-low here, I would have expected $7.5-8MM per year, Dotel type money.

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  8. Sox27 says:

    Hey Chad, let’s see one of your intelligent posts. You’re probably a member of the fangraphs community that’s never stepped on a baseball field, yet you critique from your mom’s basement. Get a clue!

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  9. IHateMorons says:

    wow sox27, you’re a douche. when did you get out of prison?

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  10. Sox27 says:

    Good one, which one of your literate friends typed this for you?

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