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Jim Thome: What Role Will the Minnesota Twins Slugger Have in His 21st Season?

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Jim Thome: What Role Will the Minnesota Twins Slugger Have in His 21st Season?
Chris McGrath/Getty Images

Jim Thome came to an agreement to return to the Minnesota Twins for another season, Friday. The slugger agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract which is double what he made in his first season with Minnesota.

Thome played a vital role last year with the Twins and was thrust into a starting role because of a season-ending injury to Justin Morneau. Originally, Thome was brought to the Twin Cities to be a left-handed pinch hitter off the bench, and to have spot duty as the team's designated hitter.

Instead, Thome ended up being a a key contributor to the Twins throughout the season and made the most out of the increased playing time. Thome hit a staggering 25 home runs in just 276 plate appearances, drove in 59 runs and hit a respectable .283, the highest batting average he's finished with since 2006.

The 40-year-old was simply terrific last season, but with Morneau set to return from a concussion where does Thome fit with this year's club? That's an interesting question, to say the least.

When Morneau went down it forced a domino effect on the starting lineup. Starting right fielder Michael Cuddyer took Morneau's spot at first while DH Jason Kubel moved out to RF, leaving Thome the DH spot. The problem with getting Thome significant at-bats is Kubel.

Kubel is also a left-hander, who has power and is best suited for the DH role. Last season, Kubel finished with 21 home runs, a .249 batting average and 92 RBI. The Twins are high on Kubel even though he hit seven fewer home runs and his average dropped .51 points from two seasons ago.

It's never a bad problem to have two left-handed power hitters that you can always rely on in the DH spot, but it does cause Ron Gardenhire to make a tough choice every night. With the Twins' roster as is, Thome's role isn't set in stone; all the Twins knew is that they had to have the guy back, so they brought him back. Even if that meant overpaying for his services a little bit.

There are also some other things that need to be taken into consideration when looking at Thome's role. For one, last season he stayed relatively healthy minus some back troubles towards the end of the season, will he be able to do it again? Secondly, there's just no way he replicates last year's production. Finally, he's just 11 home runs shy of 600.

So while Thome has an aging body working against him and Kubel—a younger, similar player fighting for at bats—he's going to get enough opportunities to reach the milestone 600 home runs.  

Thome wasn't just brought back to contribute on the field, either. The veteran is a fan favorite and a clubhouse leader who the younger players look up to. How great would it be to go to the ballpark every day and get tips from one of the greatest sluggers of all time?

When last season ended and Thome announced his intentions of playing another season it was widely believed he would return to the Twins. After some flirtation with the Texas Rangers, he ultimately turned down a more lucrative offer to remain in Minnesota.

It's a good fit for both sides as Thome looks to join the 600 club. This will likely be the slugger's last season and when he leaves the game, he will certainly be missed. For Twins fans, they'll have the luxury of knowing that they'll get to see more massive homers and possibly a piece of history, too.

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