January 14, 2011
Thome Sits Still
Re-signed DH-L Jim Thome to a one-year, $3 million (base) contract. [1/14]
There was speculation that the Twins might no longer have need for Thome, because with Delmon Young's development, Jason Kubel's recent demonstration of ambulatory outfield play, and the arrival of Danny Valencia to man third base, the starting lineup seems much more set for 2011 than it did last year. However, to the Twins' credit, signing Thome made sense last year, so you can see how it still made sense a year, 25 homers, and a .350 TAv later.
A big part of the reason why is Michael Cuddyer's demonstrated flexibility. When Justin Morneau broke down, you-know-who went to first base, with Kubel playing outfield, and Thome DHing. When Cuddyer played third base for stretches in June and July, here again, Kubel went to the outfield, and Thome was in the lineup as the regular DH versus right-handed pitching. When Cuddyer started at second base on May 31, guess who was at DH? Having a position player as adaptable as Cuddyer has proven to be a godsend that makes carrying a part-time platoon DH possible in the age of the seven-man bullpen: the loss of almost any starting player for any length of time basically opens up an opportunity for Thome to get at-bats. Being able to plug Thome into the lineup in case of an injury or rest day for all four starting cornermen is a great way to make sure an offense loses nothing to those kind of inevitable logistical nuisance.
It's also important to remember how well Ron Gardenhire employed Thome before Morneau left the lineup in July. Through the team's first 84 games, Thome started just 34 of those games, but he got into 58 total, getting 162 PAs while hitting .261/.383/.582. He didn't go stale, he didn't struggle in a part-time role, and he didn't curl up and die, just because he was the lineup's 10th man. With Morneau presumably healthy, Thome is just slipping back into that role, which involves plenty of at-bats to log his 600th homer and more besides.
As for the price, even with a 200 percent raise from his base compensation for 2010, it's ludicrously cheap relative to the reasonable expectation that he can keep bopping, even in his age-40 season. As to that expectation, considering the man has only delivered one poor season (his injury-impacted 2005), it's as reasonable as they get for a player at this or any age.
Perhaps life as a DH has prepared him for sporadic use and being ready to go in any situation; remaining productive as a pinch-hitter is far from a sure thing, but Thome managed last season's productivity while starting just 79 games while also hitting .280/.400/.560 as a pinch-hitter in 30 appearances. Not everyone could produce in that kind of role, but Thome's success is cause for confidence that, combined with Gardenhire's willingness to spot him, he'll be able to continue cranking.