Thursday, August 25, 2011

Twins front office got one right with Jim Thome


Since taking over as general manager of the Twins in late 2007, Bill Smith and his front office staffers have signed over 50 free agents. And, without question, Jim Thome has been the best of the Smith era.
While the majority of those 50-plus signings spent their time as minor league roster filler, since taking over the big chair, Smith has signed the likes of Adam Everett, Craig Monroe, Mike Lamb, Livan Hernandez, Joe Crede and Orlando Hudson. With maybe the exception of Hudson, none of those players have even come close to matching the on and off-field production of Jim Thome.
Like the bulk of Smith’s free agent acquisitions, Thome had flaws which dropped him into the Twins’ price range. His 2009 was marred by nagging injuries that wreaked havoc on his ability to catch up to fastballs. Baseball analysts began to question whether his career was entering an inevitable slide and, at that time, I reached the same conclusion based on the data that suggested a decline in power and bat speed. Because of this, interest in Thome was tepid at best so the Twins were able to land him for basically a pauper’s wage of $1.6 million.
Meanwhile, Thome spent the 2010 season feeding big ol’ s&*tburgers to everyone who doubted his ability to play at the elite level. His isolated power mark of .344 that year was bested only by Toronto’s Jose Bautista who managed to lead the league with 54 home runs. Not only did his power return but he also showed that he could still catch up to big league fastballs – including this 93 mile per hour one thrown to him by Chicago’s Matt Thornton:
Because of injury concerns, Thome’s playing time was understandably rationed - that is, until Justin Morneau’s concession in Toronto forced him into a more regular role. In his last 179 plate appearances that year, Thome mashed to the tune of .301/.436/.664 with 15 home runs and helped propel the Twins to the top of the AL Central.
Due to his clubhouse presence in addition to his on-field performance, the Twins justifiably re-signed him for the 2011 season, offering him $3 million. Thome reportedly turned down more money from Texas to return to Minnesota – a place where he felt had as good an opportunity as any to win a World Series.
With injuries, ineffectiveness, steady decline and decay of the team around him, Thome put together a solid if unspectacular season of his own. Considering he smacked nearly 34% of his fly balls out of the park in 2010, a figure well above his career rate and not encroached upon since his Phillies days, it was expected to see a decline in that area. That rate tumbled to 21.8% this year – perhaps a sign of his age as it was his lowest rate in a non-injured season. Likewise, his line drive and walk rates both took a hit which led to his on-base percentage dropping from .412 to .357. Nevertheless, he was certainly one of the Twins’ best hitters even if he had a noticeable drop-off from his contributions the previous season.
In all, Thome has provided the team with almost unparalleled production from their DH position:

DH Production (2010-2011)
578
0.268
0.389
0.567
0.407
1075
0.284
0.378
0.542
0.390
1213
0.308
0.380
0.467
0.366
753
0.264
0.347
0.492
0.362
993
0.310
0.359
0.470
0.358
781
0.279
0.370
0.449
0.356
695
0.249
0.376
0.395
0.347
779
0.261
0.321
0.465
0.342
792
0.246
0.342
0.430
0.339
1167
0.253
0.355
0.399
0.338

What's more impressive is that the Twins received this production - valued at $17.4 million by Fangraphs.com - for a small sum of just over $5 million.
Given the team’s steady descent to the bottom of the standings, the need for a part-time DH – one who would be a free agent at the season’s end - was essentially non-existent. So the Twins bid adieu to Thome – shipping him to Cleveland and saving him from the local abomination. For their part, the Twins will pocket the half-million owed to him for the rest of the season as well as receive a player-to-be-named later before an October 15 deadline. Nobody should get too excited about the return – it will likely be a C-list prospect – it is still something for nothing.
So even though the Jim Thome era has ended in Minnesota, let’s remember this as one of the few moves that the Twins front office got right.

4 comments:

jjswol said...

I agree that moving Thome was the right thing to do. The problem is that Thome wanted to go to Philly where he could be reunited with Charlie Manual and have a legit shot to win a World Series. Instead, he ends up with the team on the shores of Lake Erie where he first started his career. You would think the Twins could have done better then send Thome to Cleveland. The Twins claimed to be trying to help Thome but instead they put him into a very difficult position. With the Indians claiming Thome he had a very difficult choice to make. He could either say no and snub his nose at the team that brought him into baseball or he could accept the trade that sends him back to where he started but with no real chance to get in the playoffs much less win a World Series that he so badly wants on his resume. The Twins should have found a way to get this future Hall of Fame to Philly.

writerjoel said...

I disagree. He will go into the Hall of Fame as an Indian. This MAY be his last month of baseball. What better place to end it than in Cleveland, the team where it all began. Yes, the Indians (and White Sox) may be out of it, but they still go head-to-head with the Tigers for at least six games. So there might be a chance. Thome actually makes me cheer for the Indians, now.

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