Toronto Blue Jays: Big Problems for the Big Hurt

Nick HealeyCorrespondent IApril 19, 2008

Frank Thomas is no longer the Blue Jays' starting designated hitter, having been replaced on an interim basis by Matt Stairs.

To date, Thomas is hitting at only a .167 clip, although he has managed to slug three home runs and get walked 11 times through the first 16 games of the year.

Having carefully followed the Blue Jays last year, I can tell you two things about this decision. One, Thomas will rebound from and two, this is a classless move by the Blue Jays organization.

The decision itself to bench Thomas is not that unreasonable. If a player is struggling, then it makes sense to maybe give him some time off, find his swing again and let him get refocused.

That being said, JP Riccardi, the Blue Jays' GM, is very clearly pulling the strings on this one and trying to weasel his way out a poorly structured contract that he probably shouldn't have given Thomas in the first place. 

The reason Thomas' contract is so poorly structured is because of the the "vesting option" that was included when Riccardi signed the Big Hurt. 

The option stipulated that Thomas could tack on additional year worth $10 million if he was able to get over 1000 at-bats through the first two years of his deal. This is money Riccardi will certainly need if he wants to go after a high profile pitching talent this offseason, especially if AJ Burnett opts out of his contract.

Having appeared at the plate 624 times last year, Thomas is essentially guaranteed to get those 1000 plate appearances, unless of course he's riding the pine all year.

Considering Ricciardi's track record as GM we can assume that this move is based more around the contract than the slow start which Thomas endured last year.

While Riccardi claims that money is not behind the Thomas benching, it's hard to take anything he says at face value, especially after last year, when he lied about  BJ Ryan's arm injuries.

He initially stated Ryan was having back problems, then later told the media with his infamous quote that "it's not lying if we know the truth." Ryan subsequently underwent Tommy-John surgery and the Jays were left without their all-star closer for a year.

In the case of Thomas though, there remain other options than benching him. David Ortiz is only hitting .134 while other DH's like Jose Vidro in Seattle are not faring much better at .224, yet they both remain in the lineups of their ball clubs.

One option is for Jays manager John Gibbons to slide Thomas down in the order while he waits to find his swing, especially considering Thomas has an OBP of .306 which is by no means great, but not as tragic as it could be.

Whatever the solution is, benching Thomas is certainly not it. Thomas finished last year with a .277 average and a .377 OBP, while slugging 26 homers. Furthermore, he was increasingly effective down the stretch, which if the Blue Jays were in contention for a playoff spot his bat would be crucial to have in the lineup. 

Thomas has long been a model of class in the sport, he even spoke with Senator Mitchell about steroid use in the MLB and was the only player to do that, so treating Thomas like this is very unfair. 

Thomas may be upset about this recent benching, but hopefully his classy behaviour will trump Riccardi's sleaziness and Gibbon's incompetence and he will be able to get back on track and be the effective player of old.