Jim Thome: A Log for the Hot Stove

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IJanuary 25, 2010

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 04:  Jim Thome #25 of the Los Angeles Dodgers is congratulated in the dugout after hitting his first base hit with the Dodgers in the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium on September 4, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
Jeff Gross/Getty Images

Most of the rumors that get tossed around don’t surprise me too much.

Jarrod Washburn—veteran pitcher, from the area, isn’t going to cost a lot of money...yeah, makes sense.

Orlando Cabrera—cheap option for second, spent some time with the team, vet...sure, I’ll go with it.

But Jim Thome? I’ve got to admit, this one caught me off-guard. The fact that it’s been confirmed by the team makes it all the more arresting.

On the surface, this doesn’t make much sense to me. Jason Kubel was a phenomenal DH last year and Joe Mauer did yeoman’s work there when he wasn’t behind the plate. Unlike either of the other two, Thome can’t spot in the field if the Twins want him in the lineup, but can’t fit him at DH. I’m sure he could technically play first, but I’d rather see Cuddyer back there than Thome with his bad back.

There’s nothing wrong with adding a hitter who has mashed righties to the tune of .294/.429/.614 over his career, but he really just doesn’t seem to make much sense for the Twins. If he hit lefties like that, it would be very different, but he simply adds to the lopsided lineup core the Twins already have. Kubel filled the Twins’ righty ruiner quota quite admirably last year when he hit .323/.397/.619 off of them, compared to just .243/.299/.345 off of fellow southpaws.

The biggest argument I’ve seen in favor of signing Thome is that it pushes Jason Kubel into a DH platoon/LF platoon with Delmon Young. If that’s your reasoning, I’ve got to say with all due respect, you’d better have loved the Livan Hernandez and Ramon Ortiz signings, because the principle is almost the exact same. It’s a vet who will produce at a given level stunting the development of younger assets whose ceiling is higher but whose floor is lower.

I get the angst for Young. He was traded for a player who has been better than he has, his swing hasn’t been great, he’s not an outstanding defender, and he’s frustratingly inconsistent. But he’s 24, his career line with the Twins is .288/.325/.413, and I really think Parker at Over the Baggy is on to something when he looks at Delmon’s leg kick.

Many scouts still believe in Young’s potential, and given that he won’t hit his prime for five more years, he’s got time to get there. Bringing in Thome to push Kubel and Young into a three-men-for-two-spots platoon does little more than stunt Young’s potential development and force one of the Twins’ best hitters, Kubel, into less playing time. I’ve got a heap more to say about Young, but he’s not the focus of this piece, save peripherally.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Jim Thome. He’s one of the nicest guys in baseball; he still kills righties, draws a ton of walks, and is probably the best damn pinch hitter available. His power numbers have dropped since 2006, making him essentially a three true outcomes hitter without the best part.

And he isn’t likely to be paid like a bench bat. If he signs for 400k, I’ll eat my shoe and be happy to do it, but he made $13 million last year and isn’t likely to want less than $2-3 million this time around.

Ultimately, I just don’t see this as a good investment for the Twins, even if Thome is willing to take less, both in terms of money and playing time, than he’s likely to see with the Rays or elsewhere. If you flip Thome’s split around, oh man, he makes so much sense. He’d make the Twins much more dangerous.

As it is, however, he’s an injury risk, he duplicates Kubel’s role on the team, and he stunts the growth of an asset the Twins should be doing their utmost to incubate.