Signing Jim Thome
Yesterday, the Twins completed a deal for Jim Thome. He signed for 1 year, at $1.5 million. It is tough to resist a 39-year-old coming off the worst season of his career, and the Twins fell for his charms. To be serious, though, what should a Twins fan make of this signing?
First, consider Thome in terms of position. Thome, because of his age, his back, and his never spectacular defensive skills, can do nothing but DH. Last season, the Twins used Jason Kubel at DH, a tantalizing prospect given that Kubel can both hit and play a horrific left field. The Twins current outfield, prior to the Thome signing, looked like Michael Cuddyer in right, Denard Span in center, and Delmon Young in left. Now, one of these five players will always be on the Twins bench. That adds serious punch to the Twins bench, but I am not sure if it is optimal use of roster space. Regardless, the Twins have no great hitting prospects being pushed out of the lineup for Thome, so it does not seem ridiculous.
Second, consider Thome in terms of likely playing time. Last season, Thome came to the plate 434 times, his fewest since an injury-ravaged 2005. This number was depressed because he only had 17 plate appearances in 17 games spent with the Dodgers in the non-DH league. Given this track record, Thome is likely to stay healthy, especially in limited playing time.
Finally, consider production. What sort of production should the Twins expect from Jim Thome. He will likely have a batting average just south of .250, given his last two seasons he hit .245 and .249. He should stick up an OBP in the .360 range, given last 2 OBP’s of .362 and .366. Slugging percentage should likely hover in the upper .400s. Last year he recorded his lowest slugging ever at .481. His counting stats are much tougher to predict, given how contingent they are on his amount of playing time. Production-wise, Thome appears to be a useful hitter, especially given how little he makes.
I think evalutations of Jim Thome on the Twins come back to evaluations of Ron Gardenhire as a manager. For Thome to be useful, Gardenhire must successfully juggle five players playing time. If he can do that, Thome should be a good pickup. If not, Thome will be one more poor-fielding deadweight, along the lines of Young and Kubel. I think Gardenhire can handle it, so the Thome signing leaves me cautiously optimistic.