Heading into the spring, it seemed like the general consensus around the White Sox was that Matt Thornton would begin 2012 as the team's closer with Addison Reed ultimately sliding in the role at some point during the season.
Through three weeks of spring training action, Thornton hasn't done anything to warrant a move away from the ninth inning. In 4 23 innings, he's allowed one run with three strikeouts and no walks. Yes, it's spring, but he hasn't given the White Sox any reason to not name him the closer on Opening Day.
Jesse Crain's oblique injury has eliminated him from any consideration for the gig, although he was a longshot given he's the only dependable right-handed setup man on the roster.
Robin Ventura has said he'd rather ease Addison Reed into high-pressure situations, so throwing him into the ninth-inning role doesn't appear likely to begin the season.
But here's the interesting wrinkle: Will Ohman and Hector Santiago, reportedly, have joined the fray.
Ohman is a longshot given his career leftyrighty splits -- even with the changeup he's worked on this year, he doesn't have a reliable track record to get righties out in addition to lefties.
But Santiago has a good fastball and a screwball, both of which may play well against righties. He's been impressive this spring, striking out nine with four walks and one run allowed -- a solo home run -- in eight innings pitched. He earned the save Sunday against San Francisco, and while that probably doesn't mean much, it's at least worth noting in light of the recent closer developments.
The question for the White Sox boils down to whether or not Thornton is more valuable in the ninth inning as opposed to the seventh or eighth. In a perfect world, Thornton would be used based on the pressure of the situation -- if there's a high-pressure spot in the eighth, he'd enter the game then to get the more important outs.
Things don't work that way, though, and there probably is something to be said for a defined bullpen role. If the White Sox view whoever opens the 2012 season as the closer as a bridge to Reed, though, perhaps giving Santiago a shot isn't the worst idea ever. If he struggles, it'd be easy to swap him out for Reed. If he succeeds, it'd give Reed some time to acclimate to high-leverage spots in the majors.
Ventura's decision is hardly a foregone conclusion. With less than two weeks left in spring training, it's one that'll probably come down to the wire.