Tuesday, September 07, 2010

More Than Money

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that he’s become one of our most beloved Twins in less than a year. Truthfully, we loved him long before that. We loved him as he was making Rick Reed look forward to retirement. We love him when he was popping souvenir after souvenir above the baggy. We loved Jim even when we hated Jim.

And now that Jim Thome has crushed 22 homers, got on base at a .400 clip, and saved a season jeopardized by the absence of Justin Morneau? Yeah, we still love him. But we’re probably going to need to get over that.

The knee-jerk reaction will be that it’s about money, and while fans want to believe there is more to things than money – well, they're absolutely right. And that’s why the Twins and Thome are destined to separate.

One of the bigger myths in baseball is that it is easy to find a productive designated hitter. The stats don’t support that. This year, the combined OPS of all designated hitters in the American League is 754. That’s lower than left fielders (763) and a lot lower than right-fielders (792) or first basemen (also 797). Full time effective DHs seem like they would be easy to find, but if they are, where are they?

Meanwhile, Jim Thome’s OPS is 1042. Now that is unquestionably because he ISN'T a full time DH. He's being given favorable matchups, and he's being given enough rest to keep him healthy for a full season. And to Thome's credit, he seems to recognize this. According to Buster Olney this weekend (sorry, you need a subscription to read the whole thing):

"What Thome has learned is that it's better for him not to play every day at age 40. He signed with the Minnesota Twins to be a part-time player this year, and he tries not to do too much when it's his off day; the rest that he gives his body is part of the preparation for when he does play."

Of course, it isn't clear that Thome really had the option to play every day last year. The DH market tightened in a hurry, leaving guys like Thome and Jermaine Dye standing without a chair when the music stopped.

It's hard to believe that would be the case this next year. Clubs will still remain cautious given his injury history and age, but do we really think another contending club - the White Sox, Rays and Angels immediately spring to mind - won't offer Thome 500 at-bats as their designated hitter, and money to match it? And do we really think Thome would turn that down, even with his new "don't play every day" philosophy?

Those at-bats are not something the Twins can match, and it doesn't have much to do with money. And, frankly, given what we have seen this year, I would argue that they Twins shouldn't match it - that Thome really can't be expected to be productive through a whole year with those demands place on him and his body. Even with the injury to Morneau, Thome still has just 241 at-bats this year, and he'll finish with less than 300.

It's nice to think that Thome could come back next year, because this year has been such a great fit. But neither the rest of the league or Thome are going to be able to help themselves. The Twins and their fans will need to look for someone else to love in 2011.


Rob said...

At Bats? Shouldn't you be using Plate Appearances?

297 PA's.
It's curious that you ignored 52 walks, 2 SF's, and 2 HBP.
241 just looked worse ;)

SoCalTwinsfan said...

With teams continually going with expanding bullpens, benches are getting smaller and smaller. This means versatile players are more in demand and fulltime DHs that can't, or shouldn't, play a position are being avoided, which is why Thome could still have difficulty finding suitors. The Twins had to start the season without a backup CF to keep Thome on the roster and every time he pinch hits, it requires two moves, Thome to pinch hit and then someone to pinch run and play defense after. The best team for Thome would be one that has a right-handed DH option that can also play the field. That would allow Thome to platoon at DH to give him enough off days and would prevent the team from having two players that can't play a position.

On the road with.... said...

I posted about Thome's contract status in August. Thome is a borderline Type B free agent. I'd offer him arbitration with the intention of signing him to a $4-$5 million deal. If someone offers more, let him go. As far as production goes, his 2010 numbers are similar to his 2007, just on a part-time basis. Assuming that part-time play has added 3 years to his career (a lot of assuming), the Twins could expect a part time version of his 2008 numbers. Add a .860 OPS plus Thome's 600 HR should be worth $5 million or less.

Anonymous said...

I'm missing something. Given the success Thome has had this year as a part-timer, given the Buster Olney quote that Thome has learned that it's better for him not to play every day, why is it obvious that he won't be able to resist an offer to play every day? If he's happy with the teammates, organization, and community, and especially if the Twins have some post-season success, I can imagine that staying could be his first choice.

SoCalTwinsfan's point makes sense to me: "The best team for Thome would be one that has a right-handed DH option that can also play the field." Hmmm...Jason Kubel, anyone?

frightwig said...

I'd guess that Thome was happy in Cleveland, Philly, and Chicago, as well. (Maybe not in LA, where he hardly played and put up lousy numbers.) He's reputed to be one of the nicest guys in baseball, probably gets along with most anyone. After one season, how attached to Minnesota do we really expect him to feel?

If I'm a GM trying to lure him away this winter, I'd offer a nice raise, of course, but also tell him, "We'd like you to be our regular DH, if your body is up to it, but we'll give you as much time off as you need to stay healthy, Jimmy. It's all up to you! No problem! We're flexible!" How many players in Thome's position could resist that pitch?

Anonymous said...

He's going to retire after winning the World Series this year.

Maija said...

I'm not sure I understand the "more ABs" rationale here either.

It seems like all Thome wants is to be on a contending team where he is comfortable. The Twins are perennial contenders; Thome likes the other players and coaches; and Target Field offers Thome tons of amenities to help him keep his body healthy and comfortable. These things seem much more important to Thome than money and ABs.

An interesting Thome article from Peoria, IL (his home town): http://www.pjstar.com/sports/x35355087/Peoria-s-class-act-has-no-room-for-steroids

walter hanson said...

The question is besides retirement where can Thome go that needs a left DH and might have the money.

Detroit and Oakland I don't think are choices in part by their ballpark plus they might not be be contenders next year.

Chicago a logical choice might not have the salary money to be able to offer a contract to Thome. Based on Chicago's payroll situation they'll be lucky to keep their current team intact.

Seattle, Kansas City, Cleveland, and Baltimore will be losers which will have Thome only if he wants to play another year to get to 600 homers.

California might be interested, but what's their contract situation with Mits, Hunter, and a couple of others.

Texas don't they Val under a multiyear contract?

Red Sox will probably rather have David because he might be able to play defense, he's younger, and a hero.

New York. What is the status of Berkman and Swisher for starters since they're your likely DH choices.

Tampa Bay is probably the prime candidate.

Just some more detailed thinking.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN