Monday, the Minnesota Twins placed designated hitter Jim Thome on trade waivers. You all remember Thome not just because of his hall of fame career, but because in the winter of 2002, he became the biggest free agent, arguably, since Pete Rose, to sign with the Phillies, which was viewed as a major step in rebuilding from the malaise years of the 1990s.
Thome has been in the news recently for hitting his 600th career home run, and with that achievement–and the accompanying media circus–now in the past, the Twins appear to be willing to let the 21-year veteran go. Thome has been a star on several teams that had a chance to make a run at a World Series, from the Cleveland Indians of 1995 and 1997 to the Dodgers in 2009 last year’s Twins. What’s more, Thome was traded from the Phillies to the White Sox one year after the White Sox won the World Series and three seasons before the Phillies won theirs.
With his career waning, Thome wants to take another crack at winning a title, and the Twins, out of contention even in the dismal AL Central, appear willing to allow him to do precisely that. From the Phillies’ perspective, there are three questions to ask about Thome: 1) Do they want him? 2) Should they want him? and 3) How likely is it that they can get him? The short answers to those questions are 1) Yes 2) Yes and 3) Unlikely, but possible.
For the long answers to those questions, follow the link. For information on Thome’s up-to-date status, click here. Much of the information below is sourced from those reports.
1) Do the Phillies want Thome?
It certainly appears so. Thome is an old friend of Charlie Manuel’s, and their relationship, which dates back to their days in Cleveland, is often cited as a cause for Manuel’s hiring in the first place. There’s also some nostalgia value for Thome, who was an important step in the Phillies’ rise from the second division to what they are today. The arrival of Brett Myers, Jimmy Rollins, and Pat Burrell, along with Thome, brought the Phillies up to respectability in time for the opening of Citizens Bank Park, which was followed by the development of Carlos Ruiz, Ryan Madson, Cole Hamels, Ryan Howard, and Chase Utley, which led to a title, which led to the arrival of Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Hunter Pence, and so on. Even though Thome was not around for the end result, fans and the organization look back fondly on his time here, which was cut short by a combination of injury and the emergence of Howard as a star.
At any rate, Ruben Amaro is reported to be in at least the tire-kicking stage on Thome.
2) Should the Phillies want Thome?
The answer to that question is yes as well. Thome comes relatively cheap ($610,000 in salary), and as a would-be 41-year-old who would net, at best, Type B compensation in the offseason, assuming he doesn’t retire, the Twins would have little incentive to keep him and likely would not demand much in return, probably not more than an organizational depth guy or two. As far as his on-field performance, Thome would, if the Phillies are smart about their major league depth chart, replace Ross Gload in the Matt Stairs Role (left-handed bench bat, can play first base in a dire emergency) as a like-for-like substitution.
(Of course, if the Phillies were smart about their major league depth chart, they’d have DFA’d Gload during the Hunter Pence trade, made Domonic Brown the everyday left fielder and moved Raul Ibanez to the Matt Stairs Role, so there’s no guarantee they won’t trade for Thome, then get rid of someone like John Mayberry or Wilson Valdez, who, you know, is actually contributing something to the team. But that’s another story.)
Assuming Thome replaces Gload, that’s a huge upgrade. Gload, who has not reached base since July 28, sports a .524 OPS in 85 plate appearances this season, and has only played 42 innings in the field, which is actually a good thing, because he’s about as bad a defensive player as you’d ever want to see. Against right-handed pitching, Gload is slugging .288 this season. In short, he’s been actively detrimental to the team’s effort, even in limited duty. Now, Jack Cust is an improvement, but he hasn’t been a particularly good player in a couple years, though his OPS+ of 93 with Seattle this season makes him look like Ted Williams next to Gload. So the need is there.
And it’s a need that Thome fills. Whatever nominal value Gload has as a substitute in the field would be negated with Thome, who hasn’t played the field since 2007. Still, Thome is slugging .495. It’s in part-time duty, so not only is it a small sample size, but he’s getting his share of favorable matchups. Still, that mark is higher than any Phillie’s except for Shane Victorino and John Mayberry, and he’s actually got a reverse platoon split, so it’s not like Thome couldn’t come in to pinch-hit against Jonny Venters, should the need arise. Essentially, replacing Gload with Thome would represent a major upgrade.
3) Can Thome be Had?
This is where it gets tricky. In order to trade a player between after July 31, the team must send him through waivers. Each of the other 29 teams in the game gets the opportunity to claim the waived player. If more than one team submits a claim, the order of preference goes by 1) the player’s home league and 2) reverse order of record. In Thome’s case, the team with the worst record in the AL (in this case, the Baltimore Orioles) essentially has right of first refusal. The problem with this is that the Phillies, as the best team in the NL, are dead last in waiver preference.
While the bottom-feeders are unlikely to make a play for Thome, another contender or fringe contender with money (the Angels, for instance), a need for a bat (the Giants) or a connection to Thome (the Indians or White Sox) would almost certainly put in a claim for Thome ahead of the Phillies.
Now, Thome has a full no-trade clause, so let’s say for the sake of argument he’s claimed by the Giants and doesn’t want to go there, he can block the trade, at which point San Fancisco could withdraw its claim. But he couldn’t do that more than once, and even if he did, indications are that he’d accept a trade to Cleveland if it were offered.
One final obstacle: the Twins could release Thome outright to sign with a team of his choice (i.e. the Phillies), but MLB insiders have told ESPN’s Buster Olney that such a move would draw “scrutiny” from other teams and/or the commissioner’s office if it happened, since Thome is a productive player.
At any rate, having Thome in the Matt Stairs role going forward would be a big help (insofar as a pinch-hitter can be over the span of only a few weeks), and it would be nice to see him get those at-bats rather than Gload, either as a bench bat or (God willing), a World Series DH. But even though, with Ruben Amaro Jr. at the helm, we’ve learned to expect the unexpected, the rules make a Thome reunion unlikely.