OAKLAND, Calif. — The Red Sox did not wait until closer to the trade deadline to improve their bullpen. On Friday night they obtained lefthander Matt Thornton from the White Sox in exchange for Double A outfielder Brandon Jacobs.
The White Sox, sources said, also included $750,000 in the deal to cover some of the $3.47 million Thornton has remaining on his contract. He is owed $2.47 million for this season. There is a team option for 2014 or a $1 million buyout.
The Sox needed relief help, specifically a lefthander, when Andrew Miller suffered a foot injury in a game against the Angels last Saturday and was lost for the season. That left Craig Breslow as the only lefthander in the bullpen.
“We’ve recognized we had some attrition in the pen this season,” general manager Ben Cherington said during a conference call. “When Andrew went down that sort of added to the issue. We picked up our efforts at that point and had a lot of conversations the last few days to see if there was a fit that made sense earlier in July.”
Miller will soon have surgery and was placed on the 60-day disabled list to make room for Thornton on the 40-man roster. Thornton is expected to join the Red Sox on Saturday.
"Proven lefthanded reliever. Guy with some power. He's had a number of good years with Chicago," Red Sox manager John Farrell said. "I think he'll fit in very well in our bullpen."
The 36-year-old Thornton has appeared in 40 games for Chicago. He has a 3.86 earned run average and a 1.25 WHIP. Over 28 innings, Thornton has allowed 25 hits and struck out 21.
Lefthanded batters are hitting .173 (9 for 52) with a .617 OPS against Thornton. He has been primarily a specialist for Chicago. Only 18 of Thornton's appearances have lasted an inning or more.
The Red Sox play 10 consecutive games against division opponents after the All-Star break and wanted to get a second lefthander before then.
“Trying to stabilize and fortify the pen was important,” Cherington said. “He’s had success against lefthanders we’re going to face.”
Farrell envisions using Thornton in the sixth or seventh inning to match up against lefthanders.
"Similar to what he's been doing for the White Sox," Farrell said.
Thornton averaged 12 strikeouts per nine innings in 2010, when he was an All-Star. That has dipped steadily since, to 6.8 this season. But he still averages 94-95 mph with his fastball and has hit 97 in recent games.
Red Sox pitching coach Juan Nieves was the bullpen coach of the White Sox for five years and has a lot of familiarity with Thornton.
“There is a certain comfort level there,” Cherington said. “The number one thing is the track record. He is a proven lefthanded relief pitcher and has been effective in the American League for a long time.”
Thornton has three games of playoff experience with the White Sox, those coming in the 2008 American League Division Series against Tampa Bay.
A 10-year veteran, Thornton has a career 3.35 ERA and holds the White Sox record with 512 relief appearances.
Since 2008, Thornton leads all major league lefthanded relievers in strikeouts with 382. Since the start of the 2006 season, Thornton leads all American League relievers in games (512) and innings pitched (463.1) and is second in strikeouts with 486.
Jacobs, 22, was a 10th round pick in the 2009 draft. The athletic outfielder hit .244 with 11 home runs and 44 RBIs for Single A Salem before a recent promotion to Double A Portland.
"He was the most impactful player available to us,” White Sox general manager Rich Hahn said.
Hahn told Chicago reporters that seven or eight teams were interested in Thornton.
Cherington said there is “no specific target” in terms of further trade talks before the July 31 deadline.
“We have some time to see what’s out there,” he said.