Friday, January 14, 2011

Thome Re-Signs with Twins for $3M

UPDATE (1/15/2011 at 2:07 p.m.):  Ken Rosenthal reports that Thome turned down $4M in guaranteed money from the Rangers to return to Minnesota.  While it is a little bit surprising to that he turned down $1M, Thome really seemed to enjoy playing for the Twins last season.  Plus, it also doesn't hurt that the twin cities are closer in proximity to his home in Chicago than Arlington.

Original Post (1/14/2011 at 9:49 p.m.):  The list of available aging DH-type sluggers just got smaller.

According to Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune, Jim Thome has agreed to a one year $3M contract to remain with the Minnesota Twins.  Thome stands to earn up to an additional $3M in performance based incentives if he reaches certain thresholds.

While this appears to be a good signing for both parties, I'm not sure what role Thome will play for the Twins in 2011.  During the first half of the season, he served primarily as a bat off of the bench, and received the occasional start at DH against right handed pitchers.  When starting first baseman Justin Morneau went down with a concussion prior to the All-Star break, he thrust into the role of starting DH.*  Boy, did he deliver.  Channeling his youth, Thome produced an unbelievable .437 wOBA in 340 plate appearances.  His .627 slugging percentage was his highest since he slugged .677 for the Indians in 2002.   Keep in mind that he did this at age-40, while playing half of his games at Target Field, the toughest park in which to hit a home run in 2010.  What he did in 2010 was nothing short of astounding.

* As a result Jason Kubel from DH to RF and Michael Cuddyer from RF to 1B in one of the worst defensive shifts in the history of baseball.

As Rob Neyer pointed out in his column earlier today, it's unlikely Thome repeats his 2010 performance in 2011.  After doing a quick search on Baseball Reference's Play Index, he found there were only nine players in the history of the game between the ages 38-40 who accumulated between 300-400 plate appearances and produced isolated power (ISO) numbers of at least .200.  Nine.  That's it.  Among those players were Aaron, Musial, Ripken, Larry Walker, and Moises Alou.  That's a pretty solid group.  Despite all of that talent, none of those players were able to produce an encore performance worthy of meeting the above criteria.  Why?  It's really tough to do at that age.  Hell, it's really tough to do at any age.  Thome essentially caught lightning in a bottle, and rode it all season long.

Thome finished the 2010 season 11 home runs shy of 600 home runs.  With Morneau presumably healthy and on pace to return to action, it appears that Thome is the odd man out in terms of playing time.  Still, considering his proximity to a major career milestone, and his exceptional performance in 2010, I have a feeling Twins manager Ron Gardenhire will be as creative as possible to get Thome a sizable number of plate appearances.

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