Jim Thome: The Best Free Agent Signing of Last Season

This is another piece I wrote for my blog Pine Tar and Pocket Protectors, that I thought would be appreciated here.

In the Twin Cities, Jim Thome has been awarded nicknames. Jimmers. Jim Jam. Tater Masher Extraordinaire. Twins fans have made a Twitter account for him. You can find it @FakeJimThome. He gets teased there, and on most Twins blogs, but, Twins fans have learned to love this man. It’s always nice to see a Twins Killer become a Minnesota Twin.

The White Sox paid $13 MM for his services last year. Last season, just after the trade deadline, the Chicago White Sox sent Thome to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Thome hit 23 home runs for the South Siders, and was a fan favorite. With Los Angeles, Thome had 4 hits in 17 at bats. All singles. No walks. He owned a very tidy line of .235/.235/.235.

After the season, Thome made it well known that his desire was to return toChicago. White Sox General Manager Kenny Williams and manager Ozzie Guillen didn’t want him. They didn’t appreciate his inability to do anything other than hit. They decided to go with Andruw Jones and Mark Kotsay, both of whom can field, somewhat. So what did Jim Thome do?.

The rival Twins wanted to sign Jim Thome. And Jim Thome wanted to hit in the same lineup with MVPs Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. The only thing that stood in the way was the cash.

The Twins got Thome to sign for $1.5 MM. For Twins fans, it seemed too good to be true. Thome coming off the bench. A bench that last year included Brian Buscher, Mike Redmond, and Brendan Harris. Even if he rarely played, having a future Hall of Famer coming off the bench is the move of a big budget, East Coast team, rather than a small, one and done in the playoffs team.

He was to be used when regular designated hitter Jason Kubel played in the outfield, to either rest Delmon Young, Michael Cuddyer, or when Cuddyer would play first base to rest perennial All-Star, Justin Morneau. The Twins are not stupid. They know the numbers. They know that Jim Thome hits home runs against them, and they know Jim Thome has to play in the American League due to his allergy to leather.

But Thome’s effect has been more than just on field excellence. He’s worked with Morneau, and helped him alter his swing. How did Morneau respond? By hitting .345 with 18 home runs, and he was well on his way to his second MVP award, before he went down with a concussion in Toronto on July 7th.

But, the big question, as always, was it worth it? The answer to that is a resounding “yes”. So far, in 314 plate apperances, Thome has hit a team leading 23 home runs, and hit .277/.406./631! He’s posted an ISO of .353. The highest mark from a Minnesota Twin since Hall of Famer Harmon Killibrew posted an ISO of .318 in Minnesota’s inaugural season.

Anyway you look at it, home runs, ISO, WAR, and whatever statistic you can think of, Jim Thome has earned his paycheck. At $1.5MM, Thome has earned $65,217.38 per home run. He’s been worth 3.3 WAR so far, earning $454,545.45 per WAR.

Thome has done everything this team as asked him to do. And more. He’s given this team a real veteran leader and teacher. He’s destroyed White Sox pitching. He hit a walk-off home run against Matt Thornton. Hawk Harrelson threw his microphone and left the broadcast booth as soon as Thome hit it. He’s inspired t-shirt slogans (“Thome Is My Homey”). Twins fans have become American history revisionists. According to some, when Theodore Roosevelt said “Speak softly, and carry a big stick”, he was talking about Jim Thome.”

Jim Thome has truly been worth every penny. In terms of money, Thome has been the best acquisition the Twins have made in a long time. And I can tell you from watching every Jim Thome plate appearance in a Twins uniform, this has to be the best free agent acquisition in baseball from last offseason. He’s been a player, and a coach. It’s been a fun ride, and the Twins would do well to sign him again, if the price is right.