Sunday, March 6, 2011
Posted: 11:31 a.m. Updated: 3:00 p.m.
By Brett Ballantini
GLENDALE, Ariz. Matt Thornton has signed a two-year extension with the Chicago White Sox, with a team option for the 2014 season, the club announced Sunday morning.
White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen grabbed me this morning when it was official and said, Hey, I really appreciate you being one of the core guys, Thornton said. It means a lot to them that I want to stay here and be a part of this.
The news came as a bit of a surprise here, on a sleepy Cactus League Sunday.
We started talks a couple of weeks ago, and it went quickly, Thornton said. Im more than satisfied. It's an exciting situation, a substantial amount of money for my family and hopefully their children and on and on with my family.
According to Thornton, there was little question of leaving the White Sox.
It was an easy choice with an organization like this, with what they've done the last five months or so, retaining the core guys, adding the pieces, and expecting to win, he said. That's my goal, to win at least one World Series.
The extension will pay Thornton .5.5 million in both 2012 and 2013. The 2014 club option is worth 6 million, otherwise Thornton will earn a 1 million buyout. Thornton will be paid 3 million in 2011, as the White Sox exercised their option on the lefty fireballer last fall.
To a man, Thorntons teammates were thrilled for him.
Obviously he deserved it, hes one of the best, said fellow bullpen lefty Chris Sale. I come in here and see what he does, pay attention to him, see how he goes about his business, especially because since Ive been out in spring training because Ive never been here before. If Im following him, Im going in the right direction.
His preparation and what he does to stay healthy shows you that theres no shortcut, echoed reliever Sergio Santos. Matts got his plan and he does it every single day. He doesnt deviate from it. He has his schedule and he sticks with it from April to October, and thats impressive.
Im happy hes gonna be here, said catcher A.J. Pierzynski, making it clear he wasnt worried about facing Thornton in the future because he owns him to the tune of a career zero-of-one batting record). Hes another piece of the puzzle: Him, Jesse Crain, Will Ohman, Sale, Santos the extension pretty much just solidifies the bullpen and takes the question marks out of it. Its a big thingit means a lot to him personally but also to the organization because we know what we have and can build around those guys.
Pitching coach Don Cooper takes personal pride in Thorntons career, having made his reputation as one of the games greatest pitching doctors on his work with the towering lefthander. A converted starter acquired from the Seattle Mariners for onetime top White Sox prospect Joe Borchard, Thornton has excelled in his five seasons on the South Side under Coopers tutelage, posting a 3.14 ERA and 10.1 K9. He made his first All-Star appearance in 2010, when he also posted a career-best 2.14 Fielder Independent Pitching (FIP, which is a truer ERA measurement, based solely pitcher performance). Thorntons FIP has decreased in five consecutive seasons, from 6.20 in 2005 with Seattle to last years mark.
Its nice to see guys being successful and making money, and its well deserved, Cooper said. This is not a gift, obviously, its deserved, through his work, and effort, and all that stuff. I backtrack it to how hes prepared: Every single day hes here early, and its nice to see hard work rewarded at the end of the day.
Impressionable young pitchers Sale, Santos, and John Danks all attested to the impact Thorntons hard-nosed attitude has had on them.
If theres anybody deserving, its definitely Matt, Santos said. Just being with him all last year, his work ethic speaks volumes. Its nice to see when you see a guy who does all the things right way and busts his tail.
He comes in every single day and is one of the first guys here. He works his tail off, Sale said. Thats why hes had the success hes had, because he prepares the way he prepares. I watch the way he goes about his businessyou come in here at any given time and hes always doing something: In the training room doing the shoulder program, being in the weight room working out. Thats why he is who he is and why hes had the success hes had.
He gets here, gets his work done, doesnt have to make a big deal of it and let everyone know, said the laid-back Danks, who appreciates the value of working hard on the down low.
Pierzynski, who has caught many of the biggest moments of Thorntons career, also attests to the veterans work ethic: Hes worked his tail off since hes been here. Matt takes the ball every time we ask him, doesnt complain.
Thornton had a career-high eight saves last season, taking over the balance of closer duties in the last month of the season, as Bobby Jenks was sidelined by injury. In 61 games, Thornton led all American League relievers in K9 (12.02), strikeouts (81), and inherited runners scoring percentage (.129). The lefthander was eighth in the A.L. in KBB (4.05) and holds (21) and was ninth in opponents batting average (.191). Thornton held lefties to a .175 average with 44 punchouts. He is one of four relievers (former Seattle teammate Arthur Rhodes, Pedro Feliciano, and Matt Guerrier) to record at least 20 holds in each of the last four seasons. He is the all-time White Sox leader in holds (100) and ranks fifth in club history with 336 relief appearances.
No decision has been made yet on whether Thornton will take the closers reins from the departed Jenks in 2011, but an extension that nearly doubles his 2010 salary indicates it is his position to lose this spring.
No, no, were still trying to work on what we need to get right with each guy, Cooper said when asked on Sunday whether Thornton is cemented as the teams closer. I dont believe thats going to be talked about at least until our next meeting, and I dont even know when thats scheduled. Our bullpen looks like its strength is flexibility; we feel like anybody can go out there and close a game on a given day.
As for Thornton, hes not hung up on any particular role with the White Sox. Hes simply happy to renew his return address labels.
I have no idea about closing. Im not worried about that at all. I don't care, whatever you want me to do, Thornton said, laughing. Ive made it clear I will do what they want, even before the deal. They gave me security and they trust me. My goal is to stay in Chicago the rest of my career.
Brett Ballantini is CSNChicago.com's White Sox Insider. Follow him @CSNChi_Beatnik on Twitter for up-to-the-minute White Sox information.