For $1.5 million and some change, you can hardly find much to criticize about the signing of Jim Thome. Is he ideal? No. He’s one-dimensional, not a two-hitter nor a second or third baseman. I still maintain a cautiously optimistic stance that if you limit his exposure strictly to right-handed pitching, he’ll give you an above-average boost of power when needed and give the Twins roughly one additional win. However, judging from some of the evidence in his ’09 season that I highlighted recently, there are some hints that Thome could (emphasis on could) be in for a sharp decline in ’10. That’s where the cautious part comes in. Yet at $1.5 million, I’m more than willing to take on that potential risk for a high reward.
But let's look at other reactions:
On Twitter, Jonah Keri, a distinguished baseball mind found at Baseball Prospectus and many other places, declared the Thome acquisition to be the best of the off-season thus far. More so that Jack Z's Cliff Lee maneuvering. That's a ringing endorsement. Still, I'm leery that Thome would get the necessary prerequisite at-bats in order to meet Keri's vaunted expectations. According to Joe Christensen, Bill Smith's statement was that the front office's expectation was to have Delmon Young as the everyday left fielder, Jason Kubel DHing and Thome available off the bench. Of course the message from the field general was a tad different. Kelly Thesier, MLB.com's Twins beat writer, tweeted that Ron Gardenhire said that Thome won't just come off the bench, he'll get plenty of time at DH. Either way, between divvying up plate appearances among Kubel and Young, his injury potential and general decline, 250 plate appearances seems like a reasonable expectation.
At Bleacher Report, Dan Wade made some critical point regarding the AL Central bullpen structure: all of the closers are right-handed. Having Thome on the bench and calling his number rather than Brian Buscher, Alexi Casilla or Jose Morales gives the Twins a large weapon to deploy at a critical situation. Meanwhile John Bonnes details the probability of having one-run games in the ninth inning and what that Thome home run would mean to the Twins. This is the element that makes me consider this a very solid acquisition. Thome obviously upgrades the bench and in key situations. And Thome feels like he can improve upon his recent foray into the realm of pinch hitting by returning to the AL Central: "The one thing that was a little difficult for me is I never knew the relievers," Thome said. "I wanted to get back to the American League, but I also wanted to be back in the division where I knew the relievers."
Matthew Steuck, otherwise known as Ubelmann at stickandballguy.com, dices up last year's pinch hitting moves by Ron Gardenhire and analyzes what this means for Thome. By Steuck's account, the Twins pinch hit for righties 42 times in '09 - using mostly Brian Buscher (22) and Jason Kubel (13) as the left-handed pinch hitters. So Thome can possibly see 35-40 pinch hit calls in '10.
Meanwhile, Aaron Gleeman implores the Twins to give him a more substantial role that just pinch hitting. Along those same lines, Nick Nelson mentioned that the Central has some very solid right-handed starters. With the likes of Justin Verlander, Zack Greinke, Jake Peavy and Justin Masterson waiting in each series against division opponents, the Twins would be served by a lineup that had the right-handed mashing Thome. That's roughly 60-70 plate appearances right there without including righties outside of the division.
While most people are inclined to say Delmon Young and Jason Kubel are similar defensively, ESPN's Rob Neyer notes that Young is a better defensive option of Kubel (but goes on to say Kubel will make up for his lack of defense with a potent offense). I like to bring up too, that Neyer also chastised the Twins for signing Jason Kubel for multiple years last winter.