Scouting The Trade Market: Matt ThorntonBy
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?
- 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.
- 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.