11/29/11 11:50 AM EST
Thornton unsure if he'll be on White Sox in '12
Veteran reliever could be dealt as club looks to reduce payroll
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Thornton intends to go through his intense workout and throwing program and prepare himself to help the White Sox win in 2012.
Whether the hard-throwing left-handed reliever begins next season on the South Side of Chicago, well, that's a story yet to be told.
"I plan on going to SoxFest in January, and that's all I know," said Thornton with a laugh during a phone interview with MLB.com Monday night. "Whether I'm going to be a White Sox player and that kind of stuff, I don't get hung up on that. I love the game of baseball, and I would love to be with Chicago for the rest of my career. But I really have no call. It's out of my hands."
This current Hot Stove listening stage for White Sox general manager Ken Williams could turn into a period of relatively high activity at the annual Winter Meetings, taking place Dec. 5-8 at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas. With the possibility of undertaking a modified rebuild, Williams is gauging interest in certain veterans with the target of acquiring young Major League-ready players and reducing the payroll in the process.
And Thornton would fall into that potential trade category. The 35-year-old has spent the last six years with the White Sox, having made the All-Star team as a setup man in 2010. Thornton agreed to a two-year, $12 million extension in Spring Training, including a $6 million club option for 2014, and was anointed closer going into 2011 with Bobby Jenks having moved on to Boston.
Then the even-keel Thornton had a rough start that he couldn't have possibly imagined. From April 6-13, Thornton had four save opportunities, and blew all four chances. Thornton didn't exactly dominate as he had in the recent past, but he also ran into some bad luck in trying to finish out victories.
Take the team's 10-7 win in 12 innings at Kansas City on April 6. The White Sox rallied for four runs in the top of the ninth against Joakim Soria to grab a 7-6 lead, but the Royals tallied the tying run off of Thornton on Billy Butler's one-out single, pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson's stolen base and the left-handed-hitting Kila Ka'aihue's broken-bat single to left.
On April 8, Thornton was hampered by Alexei Ramirez and Juan Pierre errors as he gave up five unearned runs in the ninth to the Rays. The left-handed-hitting Dan Johnson put an exclamation point on that rally with a long three-run home run to right, marking Johnson's lone long ball until he tied up the Yankees in the ninth inning during the final game of the regular season.
By the end of that first month, Sergio Santos had moved into the closer role and Thornton had returned to familiar setup responsibilities.
"Was mine an interim thing? If I had success, I'm sure it wouldn't have been," said Thornton of his abbreviated run at closer. "Obviously everyone knows what happened in the games I was in. Things just didn't go well for me in that role.
"Maybe it was a sign I wasn't meant to be a closer here. Over the years, I've done a good job of filling in as closer, and I believe in myself in that role and think I can get the job done at any given time when they give me the ball in the ninth inning. But the surge of [Chris] Sale this past year, what he did, and how good Sergio was for most of the year, this is the way it worked out.
"It's one of those things where things weren't going good for us and I was part of that in the back end of the bullpen," Thornton said. "They had to make changes at the time. Just the lack of performance was the most frustrating part for me, my inability to have success that I expect myself to have, prepare and dedicate myself to have all offseason long. It's very frustrating when you let the team down."
His 2011 slow start was erased by a stellar five-month run, dropping his ERA from 8.64 at the end of April to 3.32 over 62 games. Thornton fanned 63 in 59 2/3 innings, an impressive total but his fewest strikeouts since recording 55 in 2007.
Any White Sox overhaul figures to include Thornton, even with fellow left-hander Sale moving from the bullpen to the rotation. Thornton trusts in Williams, assistant general manager Rick Hahn and their staff and doesn't worry about possible new destinations.
He also has been around the game long enough to realize teams win with pitching. So, with free agent Mark Buehrle seemingly a long shot to return, don't look for Thornton, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and even Santos all to be moved if the White Sox have any hope of 2012 contention.
"If that many pieces happen, it would be a miracle that a team would be able to pull it off," said Thornton, who needs 27 appearances to set the White Sox record for relievers. "Go to any team in baseball and give up their 1, 2 and 3 starters and nobody would expect them to compete.
"Everyone knows [White Sox chairman] Jerry [Reinsdorf] wants to win. Kenny will lose sleep honestly when we don't win games, and I'm excited to play for Robin [Ventura]. He holds players accountable and expects players to play as he did.
"Who really knows what's going to happen?" Thornton said. "I'm 35, and I want to play another five, six or seven years, but I want to win, too. I don't want to be Arthur Rhodes, who at 42 had his first chance playing in the World Series, not just winning it. It's all about that."