Matt Thornton is out of options. He is not necessarily out of a job.
The hard-throwing lefty hasn’t exactly forced his way onto the major league roster, to put it mildly. But as the above piece by John Hickey demonstrates, the Mariners are loath to just cut him loose. He can’t be sent to the minors without clearing waivers, and if you’re left-handed and throw 95 miles per hour, someone will claim you.
Thornton’s career minor league numbers are underwhelming. Though control problems are often cited — with good reason — as his main bugaboo, he also gave up more than a hit an inning at AAA last year as a 28 year old. So it isn’t like he is wild but totally dominant; he needs improvement before he’s a consistent big-league contributor.
The hope is that Thornton harnesses his control issues and becomes an effective lefty specialist. But for an arguably competitive team, does it really make sense to wait for a 28 year old potential lefty one out guy (LOOGY) to develop — especially when you have George Sherrill? Pretty much any way you slice it, George Sherrill was better last year and is more ready to miss bats this year. Sherrill is also a not quite a year younger than Thornton. Since Sherrill’s spring ERA is about a decimal point removed from Thornton’s (1.80 to 11.47!), you have to think Sherrill is ahead on the depth chart. He certainly deserves to be.
When Bill Bavasi says you’ve been his biggest disappointment of the spring, that’s probably not a good sign for Thornton, either.
With Eddie Guardado and Ron Villone (I know, I know) locks for the bullpen, there would be virtually no chance for both Sherrill and Thornton to break camp together. Since Joel Pineiro is injured, though, there’s a solid chance he’ll be sent to the DL to forestall a roster move. When Pineiro comes back, someone will be on the bubble, and it will be interesting to see what — if anything — they do to keep Thornton.