Take a moment and pour one out for lefty reliever Matt Thornton, the longtime White Sox bullpen stalwart who announced his retirement today at the age of 40. Jerry Crasnick had it first:
Longtime MLB reliever Matt Thornton has retired at age 40. He pitched in 748 games with #whitesox and 5 other clubs. One of the good guys.— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) November 8, 2016
In a 13 year Major League career, Thornton played for six clubs, finishing with a 36-46 record and 23 saves, a 3.41 ERA (129 ERA+) and 642 strikeouts in 662.2 innings. He finishes 69th (nice) in games pitched.
Thornton was never flashy. He was never a closer. He never made headlines. Despite being really effective for a really long time, Thornton never got the spotlight. In 13 years, he made $28 million, which is a lot of money, but is also less than it costs to employ Zack Greinke for one year.
If Thornton was in his prime today, he would be in a very different position. From 2008-2010, Thornton appeared in 205 games and posted a 2.70 ERA. He threw 200.1 innings, with 245 strikeouts. He was a light version of Andrew Miller. Thornton signed an extension in 2011 that paid him $14 million over three years. If he did the same thing today, he would get something like what Joakim Soria or Ryan Madson got last offseason. He would be revered as a shutdown reliever and near the top of the free agent market.
Things have just changed so much in just a few years on that front. And elite bullpens are considered so much more valuable. Alas, Thornton was born at just the wrong time to take advantage of that. He’ll be largely forgotten, like so many anonymous middle relievers. But for a few years there, Thornton really was one of the best.