Scouting The Trade Market: Matt Thornton

The Yankees and Rule 5 Draft Targets
Yanks express interest in Kyle Drabek

Dare the Yankees dip their toes back into the water of the lefty reliever pool? Brian Cashman has mentioned it as an area of need, yet twice in the recent past he’s been burned. Damaso Marte, after signing a three-year, $12 million deal before 2009, pitched only 31 innings. Pedro Feliciano signed a two-year, $8 million contract last winter and will not throw a single inning for the Yankees. Considering the dearth of available left-handed relievers on the free agent market, the Yankees will likely sit out this round.

Yet the trade market always remains a possibility. Just this morning, in fact, ESPN’s Buster Olney mentioned that the White Sox are shopping Matt Thornton. We’ve heard plenty this winter about the Sox wanting to shed payroll, and losing the two years and $12 million remaining to Thornton would certainly help. Might they match up with the Yankees?

Pros

  • In the past four years Thornton has been one of the more successful relievers in the league. Since 2008, among relievers with at least 200 IP, Thornton ranks 14th in ERA, 3rd in FIP, 5th in strikeout rate, 11th in home run rate, and 19th in walk rate.
  • He absolutely kills lefties: 12 K/9, 0.79 HR/9, 2.71 FIP lifetime against them, despite the terrible start to his career. Since 2009 his FIP hasn’t crossed the 2.00 barrier against left-handed batters.
  • While his ERA jumped over the 3.00 mark last year, for the first time since 2007, his peripherals remained solid: 9.5 K/9, 3.17 BB/9, 0.45 HR/9.
  • His poor season was more like a poor April. From May on he threw 51.1 innings, striking out 53 to 15 walks and allowing just one home run — 2.45 ERA.
  • It might seem obvious, since his overall numbers are so good, but he can handle righties, too. He might walk them at a greater clip than lefties, but in the past four years he’s had little discernible trouble against them.

Cons

  • He’s not exactly young. The Mariners didn’t call up Thornton until he was 27. He just turned 35, so his contract will end just after he turns 37. That’s not always good news for a guy who relies on mid-90s heat.
  • He’s not cheap, either. His contract extension, which kicks in starting in 2012, pays him $5.5 million in each of the next two years. It also has a $1 million buyout of a $6 million club option. The Yankees might not consider that a reasonable allocation of their rising payroll.
  • His trade cost might prove prohibitive. While the Sox are shopping him, they aren’t going to give him away. Reliable lefty relievers are a commodity in short supply, and so the Sox could initiate a bidding war and get a bit more than they should for a 35-year-old reliever with $12 million remaining on his contract.

While talking to the FanGraphs staff at spring training, White Sox Assistant GM Rick Hahn shared with us the essence of Thornton: “When he came over here we asked him what he wanted to do. He said, ‘I want to throw the ball right down the [expletive deleted] middle and see if they can hit it.’ So we let him throw the ball right down the [expletive deleted] middle.” It has worked exceedingly well for him during his five years in Chicago, and particularly in the last four. Yet that might be reason for pause. Can Thornton continue dominating hitters with his mid-90s heat for the next two years?

The problem with trading for Thornton straight up is finding reasonable value for both sides. Given his age and skillset, his contract might seem like too big a risk. At the same time, the White Sox want to receive some value for their reliable lefty reliever. It could cause a stalemate in negotiations with any organization. The better bet might be to pursue a package deal of John Danks and Thornton. Danks is a favorite at RAB. Before the trade deadline we scouted the trade market for Danks, and recently Moshe wrote up a comparison of Danks to Andy Pettitte. The Yankees could fill two positions in such a trade, and the White Sox would have a better chance of realizing value for both. The Yankees, for instance, might not be willing to trade Dellin Betances for just Danks, but might be more willing to included him in a deal for both Danks and Thornton.*

*Just an example. My trade proposal sucks.

The Yankees and the White Sox figure to talk on at least a few occasions this winter. Since the Sox are apparently in a reloading phase, they might wish to shed some players who either have inflated salaries or who will reach free agency soon. The two clubs have worked together in the past on trades, and we could see them hook up again this winter. Seeing Danks in navy blue pinstripes, rather than black, would be a welcome development.

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The Yankees and Rule 5 Draft Targets
Yanks express interest in Kyle Drabek
  • Jose M. Vazquez..

    Certainly we would like to have Danks and Thornton but at what price? With this new CBA agreement if you mortgage the farm you may not be able to stock it with new seeds that have promise. For that reason, I am in favor of the Yankees going the free agency way so that our young talent is retained. True some may not make it but those that do are less expensive and

    • Jose M. Vazquez..

      their whole history is known.

    • Ted Nelson

      I find it very unlikely that the Yankees will suddenly become incapable of adding any amateur talent under the new CBA. I think the direct impact will be more marginal.

      • Ted Nelson

        It might be a very real impact, just that I think they’ll still have a shot at plenty of talent… just less.

  • Blaze

    Danks Thorton and eat Dunn’s contract for lesser prospects?

    • Bavarian Yankee

      no way. Nobody wants Dunn’s contract. That might be the worst contract in baseball right now.

      • Plank

        Would you do a Dunn for Arod trade? Dunn for Teixeira?

        • Bavarian Yankee

          Dunn for A-Rod? I’d think about it but Dunn would be a platoon DH at best. So … no. And who plays 3rd? I’d rather have A-Rod’s contract than Dunn’s because we need A-Rod at 3rd and we have absolutely no use for Dunn.

          No way I trade Dunn for Teixeira.

          • Plank

            If you did Arod for Dunn, you could immediately cut Dunn, sign Aramis Ramirez and stay at about the same revenue and production. It becomes favorable for the Yankees in 3 years when Arod is ancient and Ramirez and Dunn are off the books.

            That’s a lot of ifs, but I think it could work. Not that either side would do it.

            • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

              I don’t even think that’d work out well on your PS3.

              • Plank

                Why do you think it’s so unbelievable? Ramirez is 33 so why wouldn’t he sign a 3 year deal for around 15/year?

                What justification do you have to be so dismissive?

                That’s cheaper than Rodriguez’s contract the next 3 years when combined with Dunn’s deal. Then in 3 years, they can sign anyone instead of being stuck with a guy pushing 40.

                • thenamestsam

                  It’s never going to happen and obviously its a PS3 type scenario, but I think the Yankees would have to consider that offer pretty seriously. Unless There aren’t really many abs available for Dunn, but even if he’s pretty much a zero, you’re still saving ~120 million dollars in future payroll obligations.

                  That’s almost enough to sign ARam (say 3 years at 15 per) and CJ Wilson (5 at 17 per. You increase payroll significantly in the short term, but you’re also probably better in the short term, potentially much better if Dunn bounces back (Bill James has him projected at a .340 wOBA for next year), and you’ve cleared a lot of long-term money. You can then field a competitive team in those later years for a much lower cost since you won’t be paying ARod 20 million a year to do whatever it is he’ll be able to do in 2017. You’d definitely have to consider it right?

                  • Ted Nelson

                    I think the PS3 angle is more so that the White Sox are not adding Alex Rodriguez until he’s 41… but I have no idea what goes on in Kenny Williams’ head, so maybe they’d go for it.

                    And that just generally the Yankees aren’t necessarily sacrificing the short-term for the long-term nor the White Sox the long-term for the short-term to the degrees that this proposal might require.

                    From the Yankees perspective… depends. Aramis isn’t much younger than A-Rod and has been worth about half as many fWAR over both the past 2 and past 3 seasons. Or about 2 fWAR per season. You’re potentially leaving 6 wins on the table and not necessarily making them up if you don’t think Montero can C (because Dunn’s PAs probably cut into Montero’s… unless maybe you put Dunn in the OF… which raises other issues). Are you making them up the last three years with that $60+ million? Probably. Is there real monetary value for the Yankees in A-Rod’s HR chase? I have no idea. Someone in their organization apparently did think so when they signed him. Even if he averages 15 HR… he’d surpass 700 in 6 years.

            • Bavarian Yankee

              sure but Ramirez is a horrible 3B. I rather pay A-Rod for 3 more years than having Ramirez at the hot corner. A-Rod also has a full no-trade clause, why would he want to be traded to the CWS? Doesn’t make any sense imo.

              • Plank

                I agree it will never happen. I was looking at it just from the what position would be better for the Yankees perspective.

                I rather pay A-Rod for 3 more years than having Ramirez at the hot corner.

                A-Rod is getting paid for the next 6 years is the problem though. He’s going to be ancient well before his contract is over.

                • Ted Nelson

                  What’s 6 minus 3?

        • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

          How can I put this: No.

          The fact that Mark Teixeira’s name is even included here is kind of crazy.

  • thenamestsam

    I’d be shocked if they get much of value for Thornton. 35 year old reliever making that much money is just not very interesting. The most I’d give up is someone like D.J. Mitchell. I like the idea of including him in a Danks swap though, as this might be more appealing for both sides. Rather than getting a C- type prospect for Thornton, the White Sox would get an upgrade from a B type to a B+ type as the headliner of a Danks deal, and the Yankees get to hang on to more of their prospect depth.

  • http://www.fan-exchange.com striker

    According to Rosenthal, the Rangers inquired on Thornton in July and the White Sox asked for Holland in return. Gives you an idea of the asking price.

    http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/derek-holland/

    • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

      They can ask for whatever they want. The other team can respond with as hearty a laugh as they want, and I hope that was a damn hearty laugh on the Rangers’ part.

  • Jumpin’ Jack Swisher

    If helping them shed salary with Thornton means extra leverage for the Yanks in acquiring Danks, sure. Otherwise, I don’t really see the point.

  • Fin

    Its just silly what teams initial asking price is for players. When they ask for something like Holland in return, you have no idea what the price really is as clearly that would never happen.

    • http://www.fan-exchange.com striker

      I think fans over value prospects too though. I remember when the Mets were talking to the Twins about Santana and all the Mets fans were saying hands off Milledge, Martinez, and Pelfrey and only one of those three ever really contributed at the major league level.

      Holland is a different example because he pitched all year in the majors, but I still think fans over value prospects.

  • Dicka24

    Thornton for someone like a Phelps or Warren might be more plausible. I’m not sure if that is the return the Whitesox are looking for, nor what the Yankees would be willing to give up. Trading for a set up man isn’t easy, cuz no one wants to give up what becomes a solid 180-200 inning starter for a guy that might give you 50-60 innings of 7th and 8th inning ball.

    Dunn signed a 4/$56 million deal prior to last season. Even with his abysmal 2011, Dunn’s 162 game average is 38 homers, 95 rbi, and a .374/503 OBP SLG. Sure his contract sucks, but last year could simply be an aberation. He consistently mashed 38-40 homers for 7 straight seasons before last year. If taking on Dunn nets you Danks on the cheap, I’d have to consider it. Prospects are going to be hard to produce with the new CBA in place. No longer can teams like the Yankees buy international free agents, or pay excessively over slot for later round players with first round talent. The Dellin Betances type signings are going to be few and far between, which is why teams like the Yankees will need to be careful in dealing them. The reason why I don’t like Dunn, were I to believe his 2011 were an aberation, is how he fits on the Yankees. The Yanks don’t need a full time DH. Betweeon Montero, Arod, Jeter, etc. the Yanks have those AB’s pretty much filled.

  • mac1

    One stop shopping, Danks and Thornton, I like it. Sign Jones as the 4th OFer and you are done.

    • Greg Price

      I agree – but don’t forget about re-signing Chavez, too.

  • Ro

    Every GM has their white whale. A position that just cannot be filled and is a constant revolving door. A position that is a black hole for GM’s in terms of money spent and production and playing time for that amount of money. Lets just be glad that Cashman’s “black hole” is a shut down left handed reliever. Be glad its not the Red Sox who’ve had a revolving door at a far more important position of SS and the bags of lugo dollars. Every team has that one position that no matter how hard you try, you just can’t get it right. It’s when its starts becoming multiple positions that the problems really start. I’d rather pick up the LF version of Cory Wade in May, throw 20 innings and pick up another in July. These relievers are so hot and cold, it’s just not worth it anymore to offer more than a 1 year deal.

    That being said, I think Cashman is right in waiting this time. I do like your proposals here that Danks and Thorton combined could work and I would be interested to see what we would need to give up.

    Just for the record; who stated Feliciano is not pitching at all in 2012 and why?

    • LarryM.,Fl.

      RO: I like the analogy of the white whale and ours being a shut down lefty which is not earth shattering to a team such as the Yankees. I don’t necessarily like the Danks and Thornton probably adding 16 million to salary and luxury tax. Danks would fill a big need in the rotation plus adding Drabek (Blue Jays) would add youth and depth. Now, considering the age of our rotation and contract lengths combined with Betances and Banuellos. The Phelps, Warren and Noesi of the Yankee system are trade bait IMHO except Batances or Banuellos.

      Consider CC, Danks, Nova, Hughes and Garcia with who ever left from the 40 man roster.

      I believe the Yankees can sign draftees. Hopefully, there are some quality players with a love for the game and are willing to understand the CBA contract and wait their turn to collect their payday.

      • Ro

        Thanks and good points as well. Frankly, I’m just so impressed with Cashman and how the Yankees are currently built. They don’t need to spend much money, they don’t need to move prospects..They could do nothing at this point and I’ll still be excited for Spring training.

        • LarryM.,Fl.

          Yes, ST does bring out the expectations but our rotation was pushed to their limits in the playoffs. The game one rainout was a shot to the stomach. It gave the Tigers a distinct advantage IMHO. We didn’t hit and probably pitched as well as could be expected. This is my belief that another starter would get us to the next level.

          Cashman is doing a great job with the 40 man roster and minor leagues. I hope the Hal,Hank and Randy leave him alone.

    • mac1

      Ro:
      Feliciano underwent rotator cuff surgery two months ago and it was reported he will likely miss all of 2012.
      Excelent analogy on the white whale. We all saw what Marte did in the 09 WS, it would be great to get Thornton.

      • Ro

        Got it. I was aware of the extent of his injury earlier in the season and I remembered that he elected to forgo surgery, but I didn’t realize that he did it recently. Makes sense now. Again, I’d be fine with spinning the wheels and giving a few low risk guys a shot at throwing 10-15-20 innings. A lot of credit should go to Girardi for his bullpen management. As long as the back end of the bullpen stays sharp (which it will be deeper soon with Joba returning) I don’t think the Yanks really need to go out and take on a large left handed reliever.

        All things considered and I’m sure opinions will vary, but I’m ok with the Marte performance in 09 and it essentially costing us $12mm. It’s just like signing a DH on a one year deal for $12mm and he has a horrible season only to bat .425 with 8 homers in the post season and your team wins the championship.

  • Soxhata

    I laugh when it is stated that the 7th and 8th innings are already set.Soriano did little to convince me,and who knows if Joba will be good when he comes back in June or midseason.It’s not my money,so I say get Thorton,as long as the package isn’t too steep.If the Sox don’t eat any of the salary,than a package of Phelps,and a couple lower prospects should suffice.I would even do an A J for Thorton swap

  • William

    Betances, romine, and C level prospect for Thornton and danks.

    • bankers hours

      Sign me up for that one. Romine will never start for the Yankees, he can’t hit and I’m not sold on Betances, don’t like his control issues. Two quality arms for two double A players for not crazy money is a no brainer. Don’t think the Sox will do it but who knows. The Sox need to get past Prysinsky and shed the contract of Thorton.

  • jack knife

    whats a matter with all of you Romanski is the lefty we need and we just signed him why go get 30plus leftys when he is just about ready.

  • jack knife

    romanski was a standout in college ,team usa, drafted high and released
    because of an injury by a stupid team only to be picked up by the yanks u talk about a diamond in the rough the guy can pitch and he can handle new york too

  • Swazi13

    If the ChiSox were able to dump/ part with the salaries of Alex Rios, Matt Thorton, Jake Peavy and include John Danks, if you can send them back AJ Burnett, Austin Romine, and others…. who do you think you would have to include?

    • Swazi13

      Hector Noesi, Melky Mesa??

  • jack knife

    Betances and Banuelos both have command issues if you look at the stats As far as the LOOGY goes im going to stick with Romanski until u show me someone better. What can u find wrong with him 2.04 era in 17 ip in AA, 2.97 era in HIgh A Tougher mentally than anyone and wants the ball and isnt afraid