White Sox preparing for Fielder challenge
Reliever Thornton mindful of slugger's impact on AL Central
CHICAGO -- Life in the American League Central always has been a challenge for Matt Thornton.
Sure, he has emerged as one of the AL's top left-handed relievers, but the left-handed-hitting competition facing Thornton in the division stands as some of the game's best. Minnesota has Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Kansas City has Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, and Cleveland features Grady Sizemore, Shin-Soo Choo and Travis Hafner.
Well, that left-handed hitting business just picked up for Thornton and the White Sox with the reported nine-year, $214 million deal agreed upon between the Tigers and Prince Fielder, one of the game's most prolific sluggers. Thornton has only faced Fielder once, with Fielder flying out to center on the first pitch.
Those meetings probably will be a bit more prevalent over the next few years.
"I was driving back from workouts, and I heard talk about Prince taking a one-year deal and worry about long term later," Thornton said of how he heard about Tuesday's news. "[D-backs closer] J.J. [Putz] texted me and said, 'Prince to the Tigers,' and I was like, 'Sheesh, those guys aren't messing around.'
New Prince of Detroit
"It's a blockbuster deal, $214 million. Not many teams can throw that out there. On paper, they are the best team, but the key word there is on paper."
Signing Fielder was the Tigers' answer to losing Victor Martinez for the season with a torn left ACL. The defending AL Central champions add Fielder to a mix that already includes Miguel Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila, Delmon Young and a healthy Brennan Boesch. Detroit also has the 2011 AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player in right-handed hurler Justin Verlander, and invincible forces at the back of the bullpen in Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde.
In looking at this loaded roster, the question for Thornton might not be gauging his excitement in facing Fielder but figuring out if the veteran hurler stays with the White Sox. General manager Ken Williams already has undergone a modified rebuild with the White Sox by trading Sergio Santos, Carlos Quentin and Jason Frasor, while watching Mark Buehrle leave for Miami via free agency.
Thornton, right-handed starter Gavin Floyd and middle infielders Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham all could be in demand for contenders and bring back a haul of young players in return. On paper, the White Sox don't look like one of the AL's best teams, and Detroit looks like the clear favorite, as Thornton pointed out.
But that particular piece of paper doesn't always translate on to the field, giving the White Sox cause to stand pat.
"Nobody thought the Cardinals would do what they did last year, and the Red Sox were sure fire [to reach the playoffs] and they didn't even make it," White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski said before reports of the Fielder signing surfaced. "You have to keep a positive attitude and hope young guys turn corners, and we can be right there with anyone. We need our veteran guys to do what we know they can do."
"You have some guys come out strong for our team, get back to what they know they can do, and we can be a contending team with them," Thornton said.
Adam Dunn was a 40-homer, 100-RBI lock until last year, so a bounce-back season for him could help change the White Sox fortunes. The same goes for Alex Rios, Jake Peavy and Beckham.
What the White Sox brass has to decide is if it has enough to compete, even with all of these good years. Fielder's arrival clearly affects that decision.
"They make you bring your 'A' game or you are going to be behind," said Thornton of Detroit. "You can't beat yourself when they are that strong."