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Trade Option: Matt Thornton

After taking a look at some free agent relievers, we present another reliever who may be a viable option, this time via trade. Matt Thornton, a late-blooming, flamethrowing lefty from the White Sox, would be a solid addition to the relief corps, especially if they deem the price on the better free agents to be too high.

Thornton, who debuted with the Mariners in 2004 at age 27, was a nearly anonymous figure for the first four years of his career. Spending two years in Seattle before being traded to the White Sox for super-bust Joe Borchard, Thornton pitched 200 innings on the nose through 2007. He racked up 191 strikeouts in those 200 innings, but also walked 114, limiting his effectiveness.

In the last three seasons, though, something seems to have clicked with Thornton. Pitching 200.1 innings since the start of ’08, Thornton has elevated his impressive strikeout numbers – 245 of them, in fact – while drastically improving his control and walking just 59 batters. Let’s reiterate that in a cleaner fashion:

2004-07: 200 IP, 191 K, 114 BB, 1.515 WHIP
2008-10: 200.1 IP, 245 K, 59 BB, 1.028 WHIP

That’s a tremendous difference, and it makes Thornton a valuable commodity under contract for just $3M in 2011. Among pitchers who made at least 80 percent of their appearances in relief and logged 150-plus innings since 2008, Thornton ranks highly among some impressive company.

  • 4th in K/9 (11.01)
  • 18th in BB/9 (2.65)
  • 4th in K/BB (4.15)
  • 14th in HR/9 (0.58)
  • 3rd in WAR (7.2)

The long and short of it is this: sometime around the 2008 season, Thornton flipped the switch and turned into an elite reliever. He’s affordable, potentially a Type B (or better) free agent after the season, and left-handed. It’s worth noting that Thornton not only held lefty batters to a measly .175/.221/.278 line in 2010, he also stifled righties to the tune of .203/.296/.288, so Thornton’s clearly no situational lefty reliever.

As for the likelihood of a deal, well, that’s another thing. There were whispers in July about the Phillies being linked to Thornton, but no real movement on that front thus far this winter. It’s entirely possible that the White Sox will hold on to Thornton as they look to contend in the perennially up-for-grabs A.L. Central, only listening to him if they fall out of contention this summer.

Whatever the case, Thornton is unlikely to cost premium talent (like Dom Brown, in spite of Thornton’s impressive numbers), and his presence would be a major boost to the Philly ‘pen; that much doesn’t seem to be in contention. The possibility of Thornton’s availability and Amaro’s interest in acquiring him, on the other hand, definitely appear to be in doubt. The fit is there, and the Phillies have what it would take to acquire Thornton, but this is a match that appears far, far away. Let’s give this a 3/10 on the Amaro Head Scale.

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