If I had to describe this signing in a word? "Good."
Ladies and gentlemen, your bench just got a lot better. Forget who-gets-whose plate appearances for the moment, because it doesn't matter in regards to the bench. Now, where there was youth and inexperience, there's a little something extra. Whether you like this pick up or not, there's no way around this fact: Having Jim Thome available to pinch hit instead of Alexi Casilla or Matt Tolbert or Jose Morales or Jason Pridie...is a good thing.
It's a one-year deal worth $1.5 million, with $750,000 in playing time incentives. He'll get an additional $100,000 for 250, 300 and 350 plate appearances, then an additional $150,000 for 400, 450 and 500 plate appearances. That's it, pretty cut and dried.
Why This Is A Good Signing
Things are always better when they work on a number of levels. First, you already know that getting Thome makes the bench better. Second, it's a one-year contract. Third, if something goes completely haywire and Thome short-circuits, it's no loss. Fourth, Thome still brings some skills to the table which are insanely valuable: power, and the ability to get on base.
Thome turned 39 in August, but that didn't stop him from compiling a .249/.372/.493 line as Chicago's designated hitter last summer prior to his trade to the Dodgers. In the classic mold of an aging power hitter he's a couple of years removed from being able to hit for average, but it doesn't keep him from getting on base. The man is a walks machine--he's posted a 15% walk rate or better every year since 1994. Do you know how many seasons there are in which Joe Mauer has walked in 15% of his plate appearances? None.
His skills demand respect. (Of course, if you're not willing to go that route then his 6-3, 250-pound frame will probably get your attention, but I digress.) If you want to focus on a measely sample size from his time in Los Angeles, be my guest, but 17 at-bats doesn't hold a lot of water. When the game is on the line, whether that's in the sixth or the ninth, bringing in Thome is a good option to have.
Even at his age, Thome can still mash, and he can still work a walk. Those are good things.
How Does Thome Fit Into Minnesota's Plans?
This question can also be known as: whose plate appearances will Thome get? There are two ways this can go.
Option 1: Thome is largely used as a bench bat. No matter what he'll get a few starts, even in this scenario. But if the Twins go this route, it's likely that Casilla will lose the most playing time.
On a four-man bench you'd have Thome (no real defensive position), Morales (catcher), Pridie (outfield) and then one versatile backup infielder, which would be either Tolbert or Casilla. Because of his ability to play third I have to believe Tolbert would get the nod to come north, but at the same time Casilla is out of options.
If Tolbert goes, that puts a bit of a twist on Alexi and his future. Casilla's fate isn't exactly sealed at this point, but if he doesn't make the trip north then a line has been drawn underneath his name. Time is ticking, and if he doesn't make the best of the opportunities he gets, that could be the end of his tenure with the Twins. If it's Casilla who makes the trip north, then it's another frustrating turn in Rochester for Tolbert. Sure, other players will be affected, but none so highly as this.
Option 2: Thome is largely used as the designated hitter, as Jason Kubel shifts into left field. If you're trying to maximize Thome's value and mitigate the offensive question mark that is Delmon Young, then this is the way to go.
We already know who loses in this scenario: Delmon. Swapping Young for Kubel in the outfield is like swapping the flat tire on your Oldsmobile from one side to the other--it doesn't really makea difference, it's just one bad wheel for another. The difference is in the stick, where you ideally retain Kubel's offensive value while replacing Young's aggressive bat with Thome's patience and power. On the downside you give Young fewer opportunities to show that he can be the impactive offensive force he was always destined to be, but the upside is the mitigation of that high-risk variable with two fairly reliable constants.
Having Young on the bench would likely have a ripple effect on Pridie, who probably wouldn't make the trip north. Two backup outfielders on a four-man bench is a bad use of resources, and with Pridie just a day away in case anything would happen to Denard Span the Twins would likely stick with Young, Morales, Tolbert and Casilla. And that's still a better bench than we started the day with.
If the season started today, I have to believe Ron Gardenhire would give the bat to Thome. Not only does he like his veterans, but this time he actually gets a useful one!
- Does this signing say anything about the health of Justin Morneau? No. This is something I want to nip in the bud. Justin is fine, and besides, Thome can blink, swing a bat, and walk to first base. That is his range of motion, and nowhere in those three things is "play defense" listed.
- Isn't this just another Twins-Sign-Over-The-Hill-Veteran move? No. Thome's oustanding eye at the plate and his pure, brute strength will easily make him worth his $1.5 million base salary. He's pretty one-dimensional right now, but it's a dimension the Twins didn't have this morning. He makes this team better.
- Where does this put team salary? Right around $90 million.
- Is Jim Thome actually Paul Bunyan? Yes.
- Couldn't he have signed elsewhere (like Tampa) to guarantee more playing time? Probably. But you know what this tells me? It tells me he wants to win, and he knows he has the best opportunity to do so with the Twins in the AL Central. He could be a pivotal player.
- Have you seen my baseball? I am your baseball. Think about that.
What about you? If you haven't already in the initial thread, feel free to sound off below.