NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- For the White Sox to make any major payroll addition, cash likely would have to be freed up according to general manager Rick Hahn.
That financial freedom could come from a deal involving Matt Thornton.
The veteran southpaw is preparing for his eighth season on the South Side of Chicago, in what would be the finale of his two-year, $12 million extension, unless the White Sox pick up his $6 million club option for 2014. Thornton, 36, serves the purpose of a solid left-handed setup man and a veteran leader for the young relievers. It's a leadership role shared with Jessie Crain, 31, the team's right-handed setup counterpart.
Thornton doesn't worry about trade possibilities, instead focusing on his family's move to a new Arizona home and his daily workouts in preparing for the 2013 campaign. The hard-throwing southpaw certainly understands a trade is plausible, if still far from probable.
"It's part of the game," Thornton told MLB.com during a Tuesday phone conversation. "You have late-inning guys that are making decent money for bullpen guys and young guys doing a great job. It's an easy way to get cash flow for a team in a way.
"I've been in rumors since I think '08, and it's something I never worry about. Last season was the first time I can remember that I was not in rumors and we were in contention. I was a part of a bullpen they wanted to keep."
Crain and Thornton remain important parts of the bullpen that the White Sox would like to keep, but as Day 2 of the Winter Meetings at Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center moves forward, the team has decisions to make.
Could they make a bigger push for frontline players at third base or catcher, including free agents Kevin Youkilis and/or A.J. Pierzynski, if they moved a veteran reliever and trusted the young arms? Is it better to have a steady force every day at third base and feature a lesser-known commodity in the sixth or seventh inning?
A similar argument could be made for moving a high-end player such as Alex Rios, as an example. The talented right fielder has big value after last year's .304 average, 25 homers, 91 RBIs and 23 stolen bases, which could translate into a solid return. It would also free up $26 million over the next two years.
This example is hypothetical, and the White Sox consider Rios a valuable piece in the middle of their order. With $89.95 million already committed to 10 players and a projected payroll of $100 million for 2013, Hahn might not be able to achieve all of his offseason goals without taking a risk somewhere on the roster.
Here's one thing Thornton knows: relying on Addison Reed, Nate Jones, Donnie Veal and even Hector Santiago to record important late-inning outs is not a risk. Take a look at Thornton's glowing assessment of Veal, who at 28, turned into a force as a left-handed specialist.
"Any time you have a pitch like Donnie has in his curveball, that's so sharp and filthy, I mean, nobody wants to play catch with Donnie because they don't want him to throw them curveballs," said Thornton of Veal, who limited left-handed hitters to three hits in 32 at-bats after retiring the first 27 he faced. "Now imagine trying to hit that. Donnie was a great story for us on top of our season."
Jones, who finished with a 2.39 ERA over 65 games in his rookie season and made 21 consecutive scoreless appearances from Aug. 12 to Sept. 28, earned plaudits from Thornton throughout the 2012 season. Those words of praise continued Tuesday, with Thornton mentioning Jones as a strong eighth- or ninth-inning guy or possibly even a starter, although the White Sox don't seem inclined to go in that direction.
As for Reed and his 29 saves in 33 appearances but also a 4.75 ERA over 62 games, Thornton thought the new single-season White Sox rookie saves leader adeptly handled the late-inning pressure. He feels that Reed hit a rookie wall in September, accounting in part for his eight runs allowed over nine innings pitched, but will learn from the first-year lessons.
"You don't know how to do it, how to make adjustments, until you've actually done it," Thornton said. "It's a learning curve."
It's a learning curve where Thornton and Crain, who earns $4.5 million in the last year of his three-year, $13 million deal, have been great teaching assets. They have shown these younger players the hard work and preparation needed to succeed, not to mention how to bounce back from bad outings and forget about the gone ones.
Ultimately, they could be teaching assets that make the team better in other areas via the trade route.
"If Rick calls me, then so be it. That's the way it is. It's nothing I can control," said Thornton, who is the franchise leader with 146 holds and 472 relief appearances, after adding 26 and 74, respectively, in 2012 to his totals. "Right now, I'm preparing to play for the White Sox."