Nov 24, 2015, 6:00 AM EDT
Age on Opening Day 2016: 39
How acquired: Selected off waivers Aug. of 2014
MLB service time: 11 years, 129 days
2015 salary+bonuses: $3.5 million
Contract status: Free agent
2015 stats: 60 G, 41.1 IP, 33 H, 12 R, 10 ER, 2 HR, 11 BB, 23 K, 1.265 WHIP, 2-1, 2.18 ERA, 3.52 FIP, 1.2 WAR
Quotable: “You kind of try to pick up things and see what’s made them successful. It is a difficult thing, especially to have that longevity. I try to be as close to Thornton as possible and at least just hear what he’s trying to say,” rookie Matt Grace.
2015 analysis: The Nationals bullpen was an issue for much of the 2015 season as they struggled to overcome the loss of Tyler Clippard in an offseason trade and a season-ending injury for Craig Stammen. Those two had formed the backbone of the Nats’ relief corps for years and removing them produced an obvious domino effect.
Through the Nats’ bullpen’s struggles with inexperience and unreliability in late innings, veteran Matt Thornton provided Matt Williams a relatively reliable option. There were points in the 2015 season where he was not used much – he only pitched six times in July – but Thornton produced strong numbers highlighted by his 2.18 ERA in 60 appearances.
Thornton was particularly good down the stretch with 19 consecutive scoreless outings to close the year. He did not allow a run after Aug. 14., an impressive streak despite the team’s slide during that part of the season.
2016 outlook: Thornton does not have a contract for 2016, but does plan to pitch. Given his numbers this past season, he should have no problem finding a one or two-year deal from somebody, whether that’s in Washington or elsewhere. The Atlanta Braves, for one, have already expressed interest in signing him.
It is unclear if the Nationals are interested in retaining Thornton, as right now they have bigger fish to fry in their bullpen. They have to make decisions on Jonathan Pabelbon and Drew Storen. If they jettison one or both of them, then they will need to find late-inning relievers, which will not be easy.
Thornton could still provide value to the Nationals if they brought him back as a lefty option for the sixth and seventh innings. We’ll see if he fits into what could be a top-to-bottom rebuild of their bullpen.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
*All times Eastern. You can also listen to the station on 94.3 FM, 92.7 FM and online at ESPN980.com. Click here for past audio clips.
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