In what could be one of the more important offseasons in the Ken Williams regime, the White Sox general manager started it off on Tuesday with the obvious.
By announcing that they have exercised the 2011 club rights on the contracts of All-Star left-handed reliever Matt Thornton and back-up catcher Ramon Castro, the Sox now have 12 players set with contracts totaling just under $83 million.
Thornton went up from $2.25 million in 2010 to now making $3 million, but for the role he plays in the Sox bullpen, the southpaw remains one of the bigger bargains in the entire American League. The 34-year-old went 5-4 with a 2.67 ERA, recording a career-high eight saves, as well as striking out 81 in 61 relief appearances. He led the AL in strikeouts per nine innings (12.02), as well as ranking eighth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.05) and holds (21).
Left-handed batters hit just .175 against him, as Thornton became the first Sox reliever to top the AL in strikeouts since Keith Foulke in 1999.
"It's always exciting when your team makes that other move for you, that next move to keep you around,'' Thornton said.
Thornton's stock could go way up for the Sox this winter if the team decides to end their relationship with closer Bobby Jenks and make Thornton the new ninth-inning savior. It's a role that Thornton not only feels he can embrace, but one he can succeed in.
"I had an opportunity to close last year when Bobby went down and my performance speaks for itself,'' Thornton said. "I feel like I can take that job on.
"Just like when Bobby came up in '05, he started as a late-inning reliever, the closer job presented itself, got a chance to close and he did a good job. It's a progression. For me, I think my progression has already happened. In the ninth inning, I've blown one save in my career. I've done it in the ninth inning there.''
In bringing back Castro at $1.2 million, the Sox have some depth at the catcher spot. Backing up free agent catcher A.J. Pierzynski, Castro hit .278 with eight home runs and 21 RBI in 37 games. He started 31 games in '10, and will likely fill the same role in 2011.
The big question that Williams has to answer heading into the hot stove grind is will Castro back up Pierzynski, rookie Tyler Flowers or another catcher that the Sox land on the market.
With two cards now played, even the Sox players are anxious to see which direction the club heads in the upcoming months.
"Seeing what A.J. has done here, Bobby has done here, and Paulie [Konerko] done here, I can't imagine those guys not being back here, what they have done for the team,'' Thornton said. "That's why people are anxious to see what will happen this year. I'm pretty sure the White Sox front office is getting ready to go.''
At the end of the season, manager Ozzie Guillen had mixed emotions when asked about the future of bench coach Joey Cora, and the fact that Cora has been targeted as a managerial candidate multiple times.
There's now further reason for Guillen to be concerned, as a major-league source confirmed that Cora was in the final four for the Milwaukee Brewers head job.
"I don't want him to be manager, but I want him to be a manager,'' Guillen said in late September. "I don't want Joey to leave. My goal is to see him as a manager but in the meanwhile he's my right-handed man, my best friend and I want him with me as long as I can.''