Sox sign Thornton, Ozuna to extensions
Chicago has option for reliever through 2011, super-sub for '09
CHICAGO -- It was just two or three days ago, near the end of Spring Training, when Matt Thornton was sarcastically lamenting the lack of media attention afforded to late-inning setup men on a daily basis.
"I always joke how you guys are never writing about me," said the affable, 6-foot-6 Thornton with a laugh. "That's because we are the bridge to get there. The only time you talk with us is when things are going really south."
The 30-year-old Thornton is far from a glory hound. But following Sunday's 90-minute workout at U.S. Cellular Field, prepping for Monday's Opening Day, Thornton stood as one of the White Sox centers of attention. The team agreed to terms with Thornton on a three-year, $3.25 million contract extension, a deal including club options for 2010 and 2011, while also announcing a one-year, $1.25 million contract extension with super-sub Pablo Ozuna that also includes a club option for 2009.
Thornton receives a $550,000 salary in 2007 and will earn $875,000 in 2008 and $1.325 million in 2009, as the team bought out two years of arbitration. Chicago's option on Thornton for 2010 stands at $2.25 million, and the option would fall at $3 million for 2011, with $250,000 buyouts each season, representing another arbitration year and one free-agent year.
This particular deal for Thornton began to come together shortly after Javier Vazquez's three-year, $34.5 million deal was announced on March 6. At the time, general manager Ken Williams categorically stated that the White Sox were willing to entertain any proposal that made sense "in the short term and the long term," with Thornton and Ozuna acting on the opportunity.
"They got the message that the door was open," said Williams on Sunday, with the 2007 version of his club going through drills on the field in front of him. "They understand that we value them and what they have to offer with our club and wanted to be part of it. They came in, and there was a meeting of the minds pretty quickly, because they were reasonable in their requests. It was fair for both sides."
"I miss arbitration, being a super two, by one day of service time, and my agent approached them and they gave us a couple of ground rules," Thornton added. "We approached them with a contract [offer] and they came back and we played around for 2 1/2 weeks or so and we got some security."
Although the final two years of a possible five-year deal basically are based on performance for Thornton, the hard-throwing southpaw has absolutely no problem with those particular terms.
"If I perform, I'll get more money," Thornton said. "It's nice to have a little security and know they wanted me here. They definitely wanted me around for a few more years."
With Thornton and Mike MacDougal locked up for the next three years, and the White Sox holding contractual control over closer Bobby Jenks, Chicago features three talented relievers possessing high-octane fastballs and closer-type potential.
In Ozuna, the White Sox have a jack-of-all-trades who can hit leadoff and play left field against a tough left-hander such as C.C. Sabathia, a pinch-runner who can steal a base and score the deciding run during Game 2 of the American League Championship Series, or a pinch-hitter who can deliver a game-tying, ninth-inning home run off the opposing team's closer. Both Ozuna and Thornton also have found a sense of home in Chicago, under Ozzie Guillen's leadership, a feeling they don't want to relinquish.
"Within two or three days of the trade over here, I felt more comfortable than I did in almost two years in Seattle," said Thornton, who posted a 5-3 record, 3.33 ERA and 18 holds in 63 games last season after coming over from the Mariners for Joe Borchard on March 20, 2006. "They treat you like family here. They root for each other and pull for each other."
"I'm happy because now I'm relaxed for my family," added Ozuna through translator Oney Guillen, after hitting .328 in 2006, starting 37 games in left field, four at third base and three at second. "The people care about me so much, the manager and my teammates. I've been on a couple other teams, and this is the first time it's been like that."
Both Thornton and Ozuna have proven to be integral parts of the White Sox past success, but potential free agents Mark Buehrle, Jermaine Dye and Tadahito Iguchi have held the recent contractual focus of the White Sox fan base.
On Sunday, Williams made his stance clear one final time in regard to negotiations with that trio of high-end talent. Those discussions apparently have been tabled until following what Williams hopes will be a postseason celebration.
"As of Ozzie's meeting this afternoon, there are no more contract talks," Williams said. "We'll deal with that after the season, and hopefully we'll be dealing with it as champions."
Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.