Bye Bye Matt Thornton

Dave · March 20, 2006 at 8:49 am · Filed Under Mariners 

The M’s have traded Matt Thornton to the Chicago White Sox for Joe Borchard.

There’s almost no way to not like this move, in my opinion. Thornton was, and still is, essentially useless. Yes, he throws 95, but big whoop-de-doo. He’s basically pitched well as a pro for all of one season, back in A-ball, pre surgery, and been mediocre to bad the rest of his career. He throws straight, without command, and has no real secondary pitches to speak of. He doesn’t hide the ball well, and hitters tee off on his hittable fastball, especially when they’re sitting on it 2-0. He didn’t deserve to be on the team last year, and he certainly didn’t deserve to be on the team this year. Removing him from the roster almost certainly guarantees George Sherrill a spot on the team, and he’s a vastly superior pitcher who was squeezed off the team by Thornton’s presence last year. Simply removing Thornton from the equation is a net positive.

Then we come to Borchard. He was one of the best college players of his time, earning a then-record $5.5 million signing bonus when the White Sox took him in the first round of the 2000 draft. He battled injuries, but showed promise in his first exposure to Triple-A pitching at the age of 23, hitting .272/.349/.498. He’s stagnated since then, failing to improve at all at the plate and losing agility and fielding prowess.

The guy has flaws that aren’t easily fixed. He has a poor approach at the plate, the main factor being a problem with pitch recognition. Borchard, essentially, has turned himself into a guess hitter. If he gets a fastball, bravo, the ball may go 400 feet. If he doesn’t, well, he’s screwed.

I’ve seen a lot of Borchard the past few years, and I remain convinced that there’s a good hitter hiding inside of the player he is now. His approach needs work, but it’s a fixable flaw. If he can improve his theories of hitting and turn himself into a .270/.330/.450 guy, that’s a valuable reserve, giving the M’s a legitimate major league hitter coming off the bench who swings the bat from the right side.

Borchard has the potential to fill a need; right-handed power hitting reserve outfielder. The M’s options for OF are currently all left-handed. If the team brings in a lefty to face Reed, Ibanez, or Everett, your options are essentially to let them hit or to replace them with Willie Ballgame.

Borchard, at least, has the chance to offer a bat with some juice from the right side and the ability to play all three outfield spots, though he’s a bit of a liability in center at this point. He’s essentially a slightly different version of Mike Morse; better defense, less contact, more power. I’m sure some folks would prefer Morse to make the roster, since he hit .800 for a few weeks last year, but the fact is that the team doesn’t have to choose.

If they deem Borchard able to help them in the role Morse was penciled in for, they get both Borchard and Morse. Morse goes to Tacoma, giving the team something they badly lack; depth. This team has been dangerously thin for several years, leaving them one injury away from playing a replacement level player at pretty much every position on the diamond. Having Borchard in Seattle and Morse in Tacoma gives the M’s one more layer to go through before resorting to Willie Bloomquist, starting left fielder, or rushing Adam Jones to the big leagues prematurely.

In the end, the team gets a few weeks to see if Borchard can fill a hole on the roster. If he can’t, no loss, because we didn’t want Matt Thornton on the team either way. If he can, well, congratulations Bill, you just got more free talent. These are the kinds of moves Bavasi has specialized in, getting potentially useful parts for nothing. Make enough of these moves, and you’ll eventually hit a home run.

Thumbs up. Good move for the club, and adios to Matt Thornton.


75 Responses to “Bye Bye Matt Thornton”

  1. IP on March 20th, 2006 2:37 pm

    So long, Lighter Fluid!

  2. Jim Thomsen on March 20th, 2006 2:46 pm

    I don’t believe in Joe Borchard as a credible major-leaguer.

    But what matters most is, why would the Mariners want to put a player with massive hitting flaws on the 25-man roster to start this season? He needs to be in Triple-A (or even Arizona) with a top-flight hitting instructor.

    Jeff Pentland needs to be saved to work with legitimate major-leaguers, not devote day and night to someone who needs remedial instruction in hitting fundamentals.

    Joe Borchard may figure it all out someday, though the annals of recent baseball history are littered with talented players who couldn’t, wouldn’t and didn’t. But he shouldn’t be playing for the Mariners while he works on figuring it out, in my opinion.

  3. Joshua Buergel on March 20th, 2006 3:15 pm

    There’s a big difference between having a pitcher around who doesn’t deserve it and a hitter, which is that the crummy hitter will very rarely have an opportunity to single-handedly lose a game, while Thornton not only had that opportunity on multiple occasions but gleefully seized hold of it. So even if Borchard turns out to be useless, I really doubt he can do as much damage.

  4. Jim Thomsen on March 20th, 2006 3:40 pm

    I agree that it’s not a bad deal. I just don’t think it’s anything more than a nothing-for-nothing, you-take-my-problem-and-I’ll-take-yours trade … you know, the kind the Mariners usually make with the Padres or Rockies.

    I just looked up Borchard’s numbers at The Baseball Cube, as well as his PECOTA (weighted mean 2006 forecast of .242/.307/.416). He’s 27 and hasn’t taken one step forward in years. I think he’s the hitting equivalent of Matt Thornton, with power as his calling card and nothing else to go with it. If a Stanford grad was ever going to learn to hit, you’d think it would have happened a long time before age 27.

    In Marinerology, he’s Dave Hengel, Greg Pirkl and Jim Maler. In Rainierology, he’s Aaron Rifkin, A.J. Zapp and J.R. Phillips. Bucky Jacobsen with less plate discipline and more defense.

    But since we have him, I’d like to see him get some top-flight help in extended spring training. There’s no point in having him in Tacoma, because it’s already well-established what he can do in Triple-A, and on the major-league roster as he is right now, he could indeed do some actual damage to the Mariners.

    I have a lot of respect for Dave and his analytical acumen, and freely admit he’s much smarter than I am … but this time, I think he got the wrong prescription for his rose-colored glasses.

  5. mln on March 20th, 2006 3:41 pm

    Wow. Bavasi made a good trade and possibly gets the better of Ken Williams. Who knew?

    Of course, the last trade the Mariners made with the White Sox (i.e., the Freddy Garcia trade) was also supposed to be in the Mariners favor also.

  6. jtopps on March 20th, 2006 3:49 pm

    IMHO, the whole out-of-options and Rule 5 rules are kind of messed up.

    It was like a bad Catch-22. You have a pitcher who you can’t send to the minors, because he is too talented and you risk losing him, but yet, he is not actually talented enough to be on a major-league roster. So you have to keep him on the team, so no one else makes the same mistake you did of thinking he is talented.

    Good luck Matt Thornton. I hope you see your dog more this way, and I hope you figure out enough about pitching to be a good contributor on someone else’s team (but not before you give up a lead or two to the Mariners).

  7. terry on March 20th, 2006 3:51 pm

    #52: I prefer massive hitting flaws to a complete inability to hit (e.g. Morse) 😛

    Also, Borchard is a much better glove in the outfield compared to Morse.

  8. msb on March 20th, 2006 4:24 pm

    Finnigan has his write-up (and speculations) about the Thornton trade — you can view it at the exciting newly re-vamped Seattle Times online sports page

  9. John D. on March 20th, 2006 5:11 pm

    BORCHARD A SWITCH-HITTER? (See # 24)- I thought he was too. [According to ESPN, he sure is.](Mendoza-linish from either side.)

  10. scotje on March 20th, 2006 6:36 pm

    So, from the analysis, it sounds like the ideal situation for us would be to have Thornton pitching to Borchard when we play the White Sox next season. 🙂

    A guy that basically throws nothing but straight fastballs pitching to a guy who can’t hit anything but a straight fastball.

  11. Typical Idiot Fan on March 20th, 2006 7:51 pm

    I’m trying to figure out if Borchard got seriously injured or just totally messed up by being called up to the Majors in 2002. He had a decent season in 2002 at AAA Charlotte but also went down to single A Winston-Salem for a couple of games.

    After that, his AAA numbers have been okay, but unimpressive. He had a crappy 2003, got better in 2004, then regressed in 2005. His XBH percentages go up and down every year. In 2002, 57 of his 119 hits were XBH (47.8%), then only 35 of his 110 hits in 2003 (31.8%), then back up to 37 of 80 (46.25%), and then down to 49 of 130 hits (37.6%). There doesn’t appear to be any corollation between his power jumps or dips and plate discipline. Struck out 139 times in 117 games in 2002, 103 times in 114 games in 2003, 68 times in 82 games in 2004, and 143 times in 139 games in 2005.

    So this guy is incredibly inconsistent. He has managed an OBP about .070 points higher then his batting average, so he’s not hopeless. I think Dave’s assessment about him being a “guess” hitter is right. It would explain the fluctuations in his power numbers and strikeout rates.

    Can that be fixed? Oh yes. The only question is whether or not he’s willing to change. He’s basically entering his peak performance years, so he doesn’t have a whole lot of time after this to improve himself.

  12. Typical Idiot Fan on March 20th, 2006 7:53 pm

    Forgot to add a question to my previous post:

    Dave, even if you don’t consider him worthy to be added to the Future 40, what would you rate his risk / reward?

  13. Matthew Carruth on March 20th, 2006 8:11 pm

    a .700+ OPS would be perfectly reasonable for a bench bat/OF defensive sub.

    Anything to further reduce the ABs the Ms give to sub .600 OPS players last year (1082 in 2005).

  14. The Ancient Mariner on March 20th, 2006 8:14 pm

    Hey, .242/.307/.416 with a legit 4th-OF glove (good D in the corners, able to cover CF acceptably for short stretches) qualifies as a real upgrade on this bench.

  15. The Ancient Mariner on March 20th, 2006 8:21 pm

    And I hope that’s sufficiently redundant to get the point across . . . 🙂

  16. Mr. Egaas on March 21st, 2006 12:49 am

    Interesting. But I like.

    Plenty of LOOGYs in camp and Thornton has been a thorn in my side for a while now. I was just going through Baseball Prospectus the other day looking at Borchard and saw some potential there. I was wondering what we would for a reserve righty outfielder, and this clogs that hole. Who knows, if he starts hitting, he could start in left more often than not.

    If Grover wants to sit Reed vs. the lefties there’s another option that’s not Mike Morse or Willie Ballgame, and I like that.

  17. BelaXadux on March 21st, 2006 1:40 am

    “Getting something useful for nothing” has been a consistent skill of B. Bavasi and his talent team, and this is another instance which I applaud. Thornton was _not_ going to make the Ms, but this is the example of why I wasn’t in favor of him being waived or non-tendered over the winter as there was some call for. Not only is there often a greater fool, sometimes the other guy is, in fact, desperate: the Chisox have bullpen woes, and a semi-useless bullpen arm looks like something of value to them. The Ms wanted Borchard in the Garcia deal, purportedly. At least Kenny Bigguy made use of his mouth in the press at the time, lauding Joe Borchard as untradeable. Tired of seeing him now, _I_ guess.

    The Ms actually do need a somewhat useful outfield reserve at this point, with Bohn being not quite ready and Jones as not sensibly in the picture yet. Mike Morse has an idea of how to hit—but no high rate of contact, no power, no speed, and no defense whatsoever. Borchard is an experienced outfielder with some positives. Whether he _ever_ becomes a credible major-leaguer isn’t the point; he’s not starting now, and probably never will. He fills a need better than anyone available in the organization. Which is more than one can say regarding the departed Matt Thornton. QED.

    Sherrill all but certainly has made the team then, yeah, and that’s a good thing. He’s having a crappy spring, but his talent is real, and of a much higher caliber than Thornton will likely ever produce. It’s a win-win-win transaction, as long as we see the ‘w’s in the lower case. I’m hoping the Ms can also hold onto Luis el Dodger, but it may take cutting a deal with that organization to bring it off.

  18. brianekst on March 21st, 2006 1:53 am

    I stopped reading all the replies at about number 25 or so, but as a Sox fan who has watched Joe Borchard not realize his potential over the last 5 and a half years I can safely tell you a couple of things:

    1. Joe Borchard is definitely a switch hitter.
    2. I know very little about Thornton, but from what I have read here and elsewhere, he basically IS Joe Borchard, only a pitcher. I was at the game where Joe Borchard hit the longest HR in the Cell’s history. Don’t let this fool you. He can’t touch a breaking pitch, and can’t recognize the difference between a fastball and a breaking pitch. This basically equates to Thornton’s complete lack of control.

    Basically, both players are out of options and weren’t going to make their respective clubs coming out of camp, so the teams swapped junk for junk in hopes that they could get something decent out of them. I doubt either team will get anything decent out of either player. In short, it might be a net positive to get rid of Thornton, but don’t count on anything from Borchard. Be ecstatic if he’s ever a decent fourth outfielder, but don’t count on it.

  19. brianekst on March 21st, 2006 1:54 am

    Sorry, the point of me saying that I stopped reading at post number 25 was to point out that someone else might have already informed you guys that Borchard is a switch hitter and not a right handed hitting outfielder.

  20. ray on March 21st, 2006 2:18 am

    Don’t worry. Thornton will magically improve his pitching and put up a 3.5-4.0 ERA in relief with less walks and more K’s.

    BTW, congrats to Ichiro and Team Japan. Nice victorty!

  21. The Ancient Mariner on March 21st, 2006 9:06 am

    Yeah, Borchard as a hitter looks a lot like Thornton as a pitcher. The thing is, in their other dimension (fielding), Borchard’s a lot more valuable, especially to this club, where we have a crying need for a bench OF who’s actually competent in the field. As long as he can do two things — play LF/CF/RF better than Wee Willie, and outhit him, both of which seem well within his grasp — he’ll be an asset. That might be more of a comment on the M’s than on Borchard, but there you go.

  22. DMZ on March 21st, 2006 9:40 am

    Here’s another way to think about this: the M’s had a nearly-useless player in Thornton. Whatever he can do is duplicated by other, better players already with the team. Maybe he’ll be a star, but it’s pretty unlikely. Maybe he’ll be a regular, but that’s also unlikely.

    Borchard is the same thing, but for the White Sox. For the Mariners, he’s still nearly useless, except that if they can figure out how to teach/drill/otherwise use him such that they get marginal usefulness out of him, he’ll be worth a lot more to them than a marginally useful Thornton would be.

    Even if it’s a bust, this is a nice little move.

  23. Evan on March 21st, 2006 11:48 am

    Frankly, I’d rather give the DH job to Borchard than Everett.

  24. The Ancient Mariner on March 21st, 2006 4:54 pm

    Frankly, I’d rather give the DH job to Ibañez, whose glove qualifies him there, give the LF job to Borchard, and trade Everett back to the White Sox.

    And may I just say, btw, that the one thing I really dislike about this move is that I’ve never been able, name-wise, to keep Joe Borchard and Curtis Borchardt straight?

  25. pensive on March 21st, 2006 11:42 pm

    Petagine would seem to be the best choice as DH. Perhaps as pointed out in an earlier thread as early as early June Everett may have worn out his welcome or will be reasonable trade bait in July to contender.

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