This makes for the Twins' best possible lineup. The catch, Gardenhire says, is that when Thome plays several days in a row -- even at DH, which seems about as physically demanding as miniature golf -- Gardenhire sees signs of wear.
"We can run Thome out there every day, but he wasn't as good today as he was the last two days. You can see he's a little stiffer in his swing. You're pushing it when you play him three days in a row. If you kill him now, he won't be any good the rest of the way. You have to pick your moments."
To date, Thome has been one of the biggest free agent values in the offseason. In his limited playing time, Thome has hit.241 but has buttressed that with a great on-base presence (.382) and pop (.547 slugging) leading to a .929 OPS – comparable to David Ortiz and Vladimir Guerrero, who are leading all designated hitters in that category. In the general sense, Thome’s production at DH has been “worth” $4.1 million according to Fangraphs.com and is an outright steal in comparison to his actual $1.5 million contract. With that kind of output, you would want him in the lineup daily. You’d want him there so bad that you might even move your right fielder back to third base, a position he hasn’t played in five years, in order to get his bat to the plate more than once a game. Still, you have to consider the effects it has on him.
Without question, Thome’s bat speed has slowly degenerated over the past four years. While in Chicago, Thome was yanking pitches with authority into - and over - the right field wall. As he progressed into his late 30’s, those power vitals have shrunk considerably:
At 39 years old, Thome is still a stout slugger capable of powering the ball over a great distance but without the same outstanding pull power that he had as recently as 2007. Although he retains the ability to get on-base and punish fastballs (.301 BA on fastballs), injuries and years have taken an irreparable toll. Allowing him the occasional breather should help him maintain his current pace for the duration of the season.