August 26, 2011

So long, Jimbo: Twins trade Thome to Indians

Well, that was fun.

Jim Thome has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal season for the Twins, reaching 600 career homers and putting together one of the most productive seasons ever by a 40-year-old, but with the team in a depressing tailspin of 19 losses in 24 games and Thome hitting well enough to help a contender make a playoff push it made sense to trade the future Hall of Famer. There was no sense making him sit through the final six weeks of this mess.

Thome was placed on waivers and claimed by the Indians, who drafted him as an 18-year-old shortstop in 1989 and watched him develop into one of the elite sluggers of all time. He spent the first decade of his brilliant career in Cleveland, winning six division titles and smacking 334 homers, and Thome waived his no-trade clause to return in the hopes of getting the Indians to the playoffs for just the second time since he signed with the Phillies as a free agent in 2003.

By claiming Thome off revocable waivers the Indians became the only team eligible to trade for him, which made the Twins' options very simple: Either work out a deal with Cleveland or pull Thome back for the remainder of the year. In choosing the former they wound up with a player to be named later, but that figures to be a marginal prospect and ultimately the decision was mostly about giving Thome a chance to play in meaningful games down the stretch.

Exactly how meaningful remains to be seen, as the Indians have fallen below .500 following a great start and are 6.5 games behind the Tigers with just 35 games to play. Travis Hafner is on the disabled list with a foot injury that could require season-ending surgery, so Thome will take over for him as Cleveland's starting designated hitter after batting .243/.351/.476 with 12 homers, 12 doubles, and 35 walks in 242 plate appearances for the Twins.

When the Twins signed Thome to an incentive-laden one-year contract in January of 2010 they talked about adding him primarily to fill a bench role, but between his exceptional production and Justin Morneau's concussion that turned into a starting job. He hit .283/.412/.627 with 25 homers, 16 doubles, and 60 walks in 340 plate appearances, including .303/.438/.669 with 15 homers in 50 games after Morneau went down.

He earned just $2 million while joining Morneau, Josh Hamilton, Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and Albert Pujols as the only hitters in baseball to bat at least 300 times with an OPS above 1.000, but after flirting with other teams as a free agent Thome re-signed with the Twins for another modest one-year deal. His production dropped from amazing to merely very good, but Thome ranked second on the Twins in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.

In all the Twins paid about $5 million for 582 plate appearances of .266/.386/.562 hitting and a .948 OPS that ranks as the highest in team history among all players with at least 500 trips to the plate. Harmon Killebrew ranks second on that list at .901 and Joe Mauer is third at .874, which shows how incredible Thome was in Minnesota despite not arriving until age 39. Toss in the player to be named later and that's one hell of a return on a $5 million investment.

Before he became one of the best free agent signings in Twins history Thome terrorized the Twins, batting .311/.410/.628 with 57 homers, 109 walks, and 142 RBIs in 186 games against them and turning Rick Reed into his personal batting practice pitcher. Despite destroying my favorite team Thome was always one of my favorite players and it was an honor to watch him continue to mash in a Twins uniform.

My hope is that Twins fans appreciate not only how great Thome was during these past two seasons, but also how extraordinary he was before arriving in Minnesota. In addition to being just the eighth member of the 600-homer club Thome has reached 40 homers and 100 walks in more seasons than every hitter in baseball history except for Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds, who're also the only two hitters with more career homers and walks than Thome.

Ruth, Bonds, Stan Musial, and Frank Thomas are the only four hitters in baseball history with more plate appearances and a higher OPS than Thome, who has a .959 mark in 10,045 trips to the plate. And his OPS for the Twins was .948, so we got to see one of the greatest offensive monsters of all time at his pitcher-clobbering best even if the fun lasted for just 179 games. Of course, I certainly wouldn't mind Thome returning as the Twins' designated hitter in 2012.

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  • Evan

    I would like to see him back too but I really doubt he would want to come here. I’m assuming that if this isn’t his last year, 2012 will be. Would he want to come back to a team that looks like it is about to rebuild? I doubt it. Thanks for the memories, though, Jim.

  • brian

    Yea, he’s not coming back. The extra slick move by the Twins would’ve been to pull Thome back from Cleveland, give up the meaningless PTBNL, and Let Jim forfeit $500,000 to go win a world series with the Phightins. (I assume that’s what he’d choose next.) Other teams would’ve been pissed, but not for long. 21 years- he’s due.

  • Pat

    Brian,

    And by Slick, you mean classy.

    Godspeed Mr. Thome

  • Ted

    He’ll be missed. Yesterday I decided to take my daughter to her first game — didn’t realize it would be Thome’s last as a Twin. Kind of sad about that as I assume the Twins will get nothing of value out of this deal, and, really, Thome is one of about three or four reasons I ever bother with the Twins anymore.

    You know what stood out most at yesterday’s game? I was sitting there as they announced the lineup, realized that this was a $100 million product and vomited a little in my mouth. It is embarrassing that the front office is trotting out Plouffe and Hughes and Butera and Tolbert in the same game. Injuries, okay, but this is our organizational depth. Ugh. And the number and duration of the injuries has been staggering, to the point where it has to be more than poor luck, right…there must be some misfeasance by the training team. Maybe not, but it is hard to ignore the possibility. Anyway, I was sitting there wondering how it is that the Bill Smith regime expects fans to pay for this crap. Then again, I paid to take my daughter to the game knowing that we wouldn’t last more than four innings (we made it three!).

  • mike wants wins

    Yes, I think they should have just released him, and let him go wherever he wanted. But that’s easy to say when I’m not BS, trying not to look bad…..Thome is one of those players that I just loved to watch hit. It was a pleasure, truly, to see him in person…..As for next year, I don’t know what I think about this right now. Kubel or Thome or someone else? I just don’t know.

  • BR

    AG was right about the ROI with Thome. Excellent. Bill Smith’s finest move.

    Next year? I’m more on board with bringing Kubel back as the primary DH on, say, a two-year deal. He’s more likely to stay healthy than a 41 yo Thome and can run out to the OF on occasion. I also think there’s a good chance that Kubel hasn’t seen his best season yet.

    And for line-up balance, they could find a RH utility bat, someone like Wilson Betemit. Of course, none of that addresses SP, ‘pen, midle infield, etc. But those are different topics.

  • TMW

    I made a bet with a co-worker who gave me 2:1 odds a week ago that Thome is in Fort Myers next Spring. He’s feeling smug today as if I didn’t factor in the rental trade happening.

    I think Thome either retires or he comes back to the Twins. I do not see any other team wanting a no-defense lumberjack who only wants to hit 300 times using a roster spot. But with the Twins’ usual bench, why the hell not?

  • Drew

    When he goes in to the HOF do the Twins retire his number?

  • http://www.iowabaseballconfederacy.com jryager

    One of my favorite (albeit kind of arbitrary)records that I would’ve liked to see Thome break was to get his 13th walkoff HR. That would break Babe Ruth’s record.(among a couple other guys he’s tied with) He tied it last year with that victory over the White Sox in the stretch run, which is that picture above I believe. I guess that’s what we’ll have to settle for. Hopefully Cleveland gets him that chance.

  • James M.

    CLE playoff odds from Coolstandings.com: 6.5%. The White Sox actually have a better chance at 6.8%. Wait ’til next year, Jim.

    Going to the Phillies would have dramatically improved the odds of course. But it would also have drastically reduced his PT. Not what he wanted.

  • Pedro Munoz

    1) I love everything about Jim Thome. But the Twins should not (and hopefully will not) bring him back next year for the same reason they traded him the first place: it makes no sense for rebuiling teams to play 40 year old players. Thome is a short-term solution or the final piece on a team that is close. He (because of his age) is not someone you can build a team around. His at-bats should be going to young players to see if they can cut it in the major leagues.

    As far as the Phillies vs. the Indians, maybe the Indians were his first choice. He can actually DH there (as opposed to just pinch-hitting in the NL) and that was the team he broke in with and played with for all those years. And the idea that you would release him, thereby eating salary and giving the player to be named later, to get him to the precise team he wanted (assuming it was the Phillies) is silly. The Twins did right by Jim Thome here.

    2) When you score four runs in four games and get swept at home by Baltimore, you really have hit rock bottom. I can understand getting rolled by the Yankees (who we actually beat once) but the Orioles? WTF?

    3) The one player who has actually been hitting recently is Trevor Plouffe, who put up a .333/.371/.576 line during the last eight games. This is a small sample size and who knows if Ploufe will amount to anything, but when your team sucks you want to be giving at bats to guys like Plouffe (and not guys like Thome) to see if they have anything.

  • TMW

    Pedro, your assumption acts as if he’d break the Twins’ budget. He’s only going to cost another $3-4 million for 1 year. Of course he’s not a long term solution, but he’s going to be pretty cheap too.

  • Pedro Munoz

    My assumption has nothing whatsoever to do with the Twins budget. I fully expect that Thome would provide good bank for the buck next year, but to what end? Why would you give at-bats to a 40 year old player on a rebuilding team? To win 80 games instead of 75? The Twins need to be evaluating players the future, and Thome’s not part of the future. Even if Thome were willing to play for free, it makes no sense for the Twins to sign him.

  • Ted

    Pedro: All the young dudes you are talking about, Thome isn’t/wasn’t/would not be taking at bats away from them. And until Span gets better Thome isn’t taking at bats away from anyone because Kubel can play LF.

  • Pedro Munoz

    Ted, the young dudes I am talking about include guys who are currently in the minor leagues. Next year guys like Joe Benson and maybe Chris Parmalee are going to be on the 40 man roster, and we should be giving them major league at bats instead of wasting them on a 40 year old player who is not going to be part of this team the next time is it competitive. Every at bat that would have been given to Thome the rest of next year or next is an at bat that should be going to someone who may be playing for the Twins 2 or 3 years from now when they have a chance to be good.

  • Ted

    Pedro: Neither of those guys has played a game above AA yet. Nor have any other top prospects. Who, realistically, are the Twins going to be giving at bats to next season? And of those who would be getting at bats as the DH?

    I’m all for giving young guys at bats and finding out whether they are part of the future, but you are being way too generous with ML at bats here. There is no reason why the Twins should plan on giving away 2011 at bats to guys who have not yet played in AAA. Besides, if these guys were ready to get some big league experience they would be getting it. Look at the ML roster. If Benson were ready he would be playing LF every day. If Parmelee were ready he would be up and getting at bats. Same thing for Hicks and Morales and any other prospect. This team is hemorrhaging outs right now and it is all hands on deck for anyone capable of contributing. These guys aren’t ready to play in 2011, and Thome wasn’t stealing time from developing players this season.

    As for next summer, sure, maybe a guy like Parmelee gets a look at some point. But you don’t build your team around the suspicion that one of your minor league guys might eventually earn himself some playing time in the major leagues. If the Twins had a hot prospect at AAA right now I might feel differently. But they don’t. And frankly they don’t have anyone tearing it up at AA either. There just is not a lot of help in the near future.

    I don’t think Thome was in the plans for next summer, and I’m not certain bringing him back would have been a good idea, but that has nothing to do with blocking prospects.

    Finally, this isn’t a team in rebuild mode. At least not a full on, strip the ML roster for parts rebuild. Anyway, this is already too long…

  • http://thefobl.com Buddy Grant

    Re: The photo….
    I love the fact Thome is the only guy in the pic with his socks showing. It’s like he’s the lone old school guy among a group of admiring kids, and the kids all have their pants on backwards because, hey, that’s been deemed cool this year.

  • Pedro Munoz

    “Finally, this isn’t a team in rebuild mode. At least not a full on, strip the ML roster for parts rebuild.”

    I guess that is where you and I disagree, Ted. This team sucks, and should be in full on rebuild mode. This team is 20 games under .500 and 16 games out and you are talking about giving away at bats? What’s to give away? What, the Twins might lose a couple more games than they would with Thome in the lineup? Thome wasn’t stealing time because until a few weeks ago, there was still hope. At this point, though, playing Thome instead of even very marginal prospects is a waste of at bats. The focus now needs to be on what will make this team better in future years, not winning games this year.

    As for next year, you may not want to build your team around guys who aren’t exactly lighting it up in AA. But that still makes more sense than doing it around 41 year old guys who can only DH.

  • Ben

    Anybody know anything about Phillip Chapman(35th rd) or Matthew Koch(12th rd)? They’re both 22 playing their first seasons of pro ball obviously since they were just drafted. Chapman’s played only 30 games for the Gulf Coast Twins while Koch has only played 10 games in Elizabethton as far as I can tell. That said they both have had, in their limited time, something no other Twins catching prospects have had. Success.

    Also Eddie Rosario was just named co-player of the year in the Appalachian League. If they had waited a few more days they could have just given it to him since he’s hit 3 bombs since the announcement on Wednesday. He leads the league with 19 now and Sano is second with 17. I think I read the league record is 22 and he’s got 5 games left to beat it. 23rd round pick Tim Shibuya was named pitcher of the year there in his first taste of pro ball. Yangervis Solarte was named an Eastern League All-Star at second base. I can only assume Dozier wasn’t due to not having enough at-bats because the guy they named at short sucks. Dozier only played 67 games while Adeiny Hechavarria played 111 but Dozier has 250 points on him in OPS and nearly the same fielding percentage. Dozier’s is actually a few points better.

  • Doofus

    Hopefully next year he can come back if we can assemble enough other talent, unless we do a full rebuild….

    On another fron I will probably use the sponser of the week at some point. just added to my favs. There are a couple of pics and movie scenes i thought would make for a cool poster if they can do that.

  • chris

    Elizabethton is allways good…!!!

    Thome? Proud he was here..but he is also a long long time indian…

  • Just saying

    I just don’t want Thome put up as the bastion of integrity, with constant “He did it the right way!” stories. We simply don’t know.

    Otherwise, yeah, Hall of Famer.