Reunited and it feels so good.
Thome first signed with the Phillies prior to the 2003 season and is widely credited with helping to turn the organization around from an annual pretender to a perennial contender.
He posted a slash line of .260 / .386 / .543 with the Phillies, hitting 96 home runs and collecting 260 RBI. Though productive, the emergence of slugging first baseman Ryan Howard made Thome expendable, and the Phillies dealt him to the Chicago White Sox prior to the 2006 season in exchange for outfielder Aaron Rowand.
For some, a reunion between the Phillies and Thome was inevitable. With Ross Gload and his fraying hip hitting the free agent market, the Phils were in desperate need of a legitimate threat off the bench against right-handed pitching.
By signing Thome, the Phillies not only filled that requirement (.822 OPS vs. right handed pitchers) but also signed a legitimate threat versus left handed pitching (.878 OPS vs. lefties.)
That said, the Phillies may still be in the market for a left-handed pinch hitter. With first baseman Ryan Howard slated to miss the beginning of the 2012 regular season recovering from a torn Achilles tendon, Thome provides an option for manager Charlie Manuel at first base.
Questions exist about his actual ability to play the field, something he has not done regularly since leaving the Phillies.
Eventually, Howard will return to the Phillies' lineup as the everyday first baseman, and Thome will take over the role as the team's primary pinch hitter.
Though some wonder whether or not he'll be able to stay sharp enough in that role, Thome certainly believes he can. After all, his first choice was to return to the Phillies during last year's waiver period, but he was instead claimed by the Cleveland Indians.
Regardless of whether or not he can succeed, the Phillies' offseason opening salvo has been fired. Jim Thome is once again a member of the Phillies.