If there’s one hesitation I would have when it comes to discussing Jim Thome’s landing spot for 2006 and beyond, it is the sudden drop-off in power numbers last season, which can either be attributed to an injury-filled campaign, or … ahem, the absence of that je ne sais quoi that may have helped him hit 430 career home runs.
But then again, even with the worst season of his career behind him, Thome still had just two fewer home runs and 20 fewer runs batted in than Kevin Millar in 256 fewer at-bats.
Is Jim Thome the shell of the All-Star he once was with the Cleveland Indians for more than a decade and a couple more seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies? Or was 2005 — when he hit just .207 with seven home runs and 30 RBIs — nothing more than a lost season thanks to a nagging elbow which sidelined him for much of the year? In all likelihood, it’s more of the latter, which is why his name is going to come up early and often this offseason.
That rummaging sound Thome’s Ohio neighbors heard yesterday was likely the first baseman packing his bags upon the announcement that Philadelphia’s Ryan Howard had been named the 2005 National League Rookie of the Year. Howard, of course, only got his opportunity thanks to Thome’s absence this past season, when he went on to pound 22 homers playing first base for the Phillies.
Which is why brand spanking new Philly GM Pat Gillick had to come up with the following quip yesterday when he was pestered with Abbott and Costello’s ultimate inquiry.
“Pat. Like, who’s on first, see?”
“Nobody right now — it’s the offseason,” Gillick replied.
Bottom line in Philadelphia though is that Thome is on his way out, albeit with the Phillies eating a large chunk of the $46 million he has remaining on the next three years of his deal. How much they’re willing to pay could determine his market value for sure, as there are already teams lining up to ask about Thome’s availability, including the Twins, Mariners, Dodgers, and Orioles.
So, you ask, what about Boston?
On the surface, it sure seems a perfect fit, one of the game’s top sluggers playing a position at which the Red Sox need to improve dramatically. I mean, why wouldn’t they make the deal, right? As long as the Phillies are picking up the tab, you might as well steal the deal on the table.
That’s the thing, though. How much are the Phillies going to have to really pick up in the end with a handful of teams bidding for his services? The Twins might offer another prospect in exchange for shaving off some dollars, while the Orioles may be inclined to take the whole $46 million off Gillick’s hands. The Red Sox would rather do neither of course, what with a shiny crop of farmhands making their way up through the ranks, and with Manny Ramirez ($57 million due him over three years) still on the payroll. On the flip side, if the Phillies can’t find a taker for Thome, they will be forced to explore deals for Howard, making their ability to sweeten the pot for any of Thome’s suitors in their best interest.
Add to that the health concern surrounding Thome’s elbow and his troublesome back, a nuisance that may preclude the Dodgers from getting too involved since the NL doesn’t have a DH rule. If Thome is forced to DH for some amount of time, well, let’s just say there’s no way he’s going to force David Ortiz to sit on the bench.
Thome also has a no-trade clause he would have to waive in order for the Phillies to move him, something that became an issue the last time the Red Sox and Indians had discussed a deal for Thome at the trading deadline in 2002. First, Thome wanted nothing to do with Boston. Then, he preferred to come to Boston because he loved Grady Little (cut the man slack, will ya?) and Ramirez, his former teammate. Now, with uncertainty in the front office and the team at a crossroads, one wonders if he would be so willing.
Whether the Red Sox might be willing is of some question as well. Trading Kelly Shoppach, another prospect, and the Phils eating a good chunk of Thome’s contract might get a deal done. It might even be one that the Red Sox can live with, even if Thome doesn’t exactly wow with a return to his former dominance.
If he does return to some semblance of his old self in 2006, well then Shoppach might work a heck of a lot better for Thome than the infamous Larry Bigbie, now wouldn’t he?