Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | February 1, 2010

Thome the Twin

Last week the Twins signed Jim Thome to a one year deal for $1.5m, with plate appearance incentives that could add another $750k to the deal if he reaches all of them.

Many have lauded the Twins for this deal but I’m less enthusiastic about it than most on the Twins end. I believe this deal is similar to the Rick Ankiel signing in Kansas City or Adrian Beltre’s tenure in Seattle, where you have a good player who has a use in this league being placed in a situation where for one reason or another he isn’t the best fit for what‘s going on with that specific team.

I’ve made well known my opinion about Thome’s ability as a player and I’m not convinced that he’s done. Last year he put up a 249/366/481 line, worth a wRC+ of 123. So he was still 23% better than the average hitter last season, almost equal to the wRC+ of 125 that he put up in 2008. Even if he dropped off a few more points he’d still be an above average hitter for a team that got about that level of production out of its DH spot last year (292/367/461 for ‘09 Twins DHs).

The problem with the Thome/Twins marriage is two-fold. First, the Twins already have an abundance of players who cannot play defense and may be better suited to be Designated Hitters, from Delmon Young (who is a younger player and may yet improve both offensively and defensively) to Michael Cuddyer to Jason Kubel. Secondly, the Twins have an abundance of left-handed hitters and are not a team that really ought to be in the market for left-handed all-or-nothing style hitting DHs.

Those who are enterprising may note that the Twins LHB vs. LHP split was actually very good last year, but that is very misleading. That split includes the performance of the transcendent Joe Mauer, who posted an OPS North of .900 against LHPs and Denard Span, who has thus far done well against them but had not shown that level of performance coming up through the minors. It would probably be best to see his 2010 performance before declaring him immune to the platoon split.

Thome has struggled his entire career against left handed pitching and is aging. It seems to be a waste — Even at the low, low cost of $1.5m — To have essentially a platoon DH on a team that has enough guys who can hit without the ability to field and has enough left-handed hitting.

While many of these concerns are mitigated by the more-than-fair contract Thome was signed to, he just seems to be a poor fit on this specific Minnesota team as currently constructed. The fact that at this stage of his career he can’t play a position capably means that a team signing him would be best served to be a team that has lots of players who can field and could afford to carry a full-time DH. I just don’t see how Thome fits in with this team. I’m also a little surprised that nobody else could get him at that price. Thome would be an excellent fit in Seattle I’d think, but Jack Zduriencik, who has been all over the bargain moves this off-season apparently passed on Thome (or maybe vice versa?). I also think he’d be a decent fit in Baltimore or back with the White Sox again.

We’ll see how the Twins manage to find at bats for him in 2010 and if he can continue terrorizing opposing righties as he has for his entire career.

For the record, this is a list of the lefties in the AL Central currently on the 40-man roster of their respective teams that Thome may face:

Mark Buehrle, CHI
John Danks, CHI
Matt Thornton, CHI
Randy Williams, CHI
Kelvin De La Cruz, CLE
David Huff, CLE
Aaron Laffey, CLE
Rafael Perez, CLE
Tony Sipp, CLE
Jeremy Sowers, CLE
Phil Coke, DET
Fu-Te Ni, DET
Daniel Schlereth, DET
Brad Thomas, DET
Bobby Seay, DET
Dontrelle Willis, DET
Noel Arguelles, KC
Dusty Hughes, KC
Edgar Osuna, KC

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