Boston Red Sox Acquire Matt Thornton From Chicago

Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Matt Thornton
Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Matt Thornton
Jun 29 2013 Chicago IL USA Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Matt Thornton 37 delivers a pitch during the seventh inning against the Cleveland Indians at US Cellular Field Cleveland won 4 3 Dennis Wierzbicki USA TODAY Sports

Boston Red Sox General Manager Ben Cherington didn’t want to wait until the trade deadline to make a move that would make his roster better. So he went out and pulled the plug on a deal before the All-Star break. On Friday, Cherington reached a deal with the Chicago White Sox to send reliever Matt Thornton and some cash to Boston in exchange for minor league outfielder Brandon Jacobs.

As noted by Sports Jerks earlier this week, the biggest need for the Red Sox at this point in the season was in the bullpen. With the losses of Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Miller, the inconsistencies of Andrew Bailey, and the potential overusage of Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa, it was almost impossible that Cherington wouldn’t find a way to bolster the pen.

In comes Thornton, who should provide the Red Sox with a reliable left-hander for the second half of the season. He has made at least 60 appearances in each of the last seven seasons and has no problem surpassing 70, having done that three times in his career, including 74 last season. He stands at 40 now.

At 36, his best years are behind him, but he should be still be an effective addition for the Red Sox. His 3.86 ERA is his highest since 2007, his 2.10 K/BB ratio is his worst since 2005, and his 6.8 K/9 rate is the lowest of his career. At the same time, though, his 1.25 WHIP is very respectable and his 18 holds are tied for fourth in the American League.

His biggest value for the Red Sox are the facts that he is left-handed and that he is very effective against left-handed hitters. After Miller went down for Boston, that left Craig Breslow as the only lefty in the team’s bullpen. Without adding depth there, that would surely be problematic over the long term. Along those same lines, Thornton is dominant against left-handed batters. Lefty hitters have just a .173 batting average against him and his K/BB shoots up to 4.33.

As reported by’s Jeff Kirshman, Cherington acknowledged the team’s need for another left-handed reliever. “We are what we are, and we’ve had some attrition in that area. When Andrew went down, it probably increased our level of urgency,” Cherington said. “We found [a fit] we think makes sense. There was some motivation to do it prior to the break, because after the break, we get back into AL East play. Stabilizing and fortifying the ‘pen made sense.”

As for what Cherington had to give up, it was a prospect with potential, but not one of the organization’s top minor leaguers. According to, Jacobs was the 36th ranked prospect in the Sox’s system with a high power ceiling, but below-average defensive ability. His complete scouting report reads:

“Prior to signing with the Red Sox, Jacobs was a football commit to Auburn who focused his future on football rather than baseball. Initially raw upon entering the organization, but has shown strong baseball acumen and ability to incorporate adjustments. Ideal power hitter’s frame. Body has been evolving into that of a baseball player’s. Fluid swing with plus bat speed via strong hands and lower body torque. Swing is on the long side and can hit out on his front foot too much against breaking balls. High power ceiling. Plus-to-better power potential. Has put a lot of time into developing an approach and learning to be selective at the plate. Shows the knack for getting the barrel on the ball. Strong plate coverage. Fringe-average pitch recognition. Will be tested against advanced secondary offerings. Has trouble turning on balls and likes pitches out and over the plate. High offensive ceiling. Average arm that has been improving as weight drops in his chest and shoulders. Below-average defensive outfielder. Currently struggles reading balls off the bat and tends to freeze on contact, but improvement should come with experience. Solid-average speed and range. Projects as a left fielder during his career. Offense will need to carry him at higher levels, as defensive versatility is limited.”

Despite his athletic ability, it hasn’t translated into success on the field. In five seasons in the minors, Jacobs hit .265/.340/.446 with 47 home runs and 61 stolen bases. His best season came in 2011 at single-A Greenville when he hit .303 with 17 homers and 30 steals. He was recently promoted to Double-A where he had three hits in eight at bats.

Aside from that one season, his production has been largely sporadic. It’s hardly been the performance of someone who will be a surefire major leaguer. If he is able to put everything together, the White Sox may have gotten a very good player in this trade. But Jacobs would have been vulnerable in next year’s Rule 5 Draft if he wasn’t added to the 40-man roster, on which there is little wiggle room. And, with Cherington not wanting to deal his high-value players, he clearly viewed Jacobs as someone who was expendable.

The question now is whether the Red Sox are done dealing. It’s not inconceivable that Cherington could go out and add even more bullpen depth, if the price is right. He will still likely look into adding a right-handed hitter and maybe even a starter. Regardless of whether or not he decides to make any more moves, for now, the American League’s best team just got a bit better.

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Tony Consiglio
Tony Consiglio is a lifelong baseball fan and has worked for television and radio stations throughout New England. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);;js.src=p+'://';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');