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January 14, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Thome Sits Still

by Christina Kahrl

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MINNESOTA TWINS
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart

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.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

7 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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davelamb

Cuddyer only put up a .271/.336/.417 in 2010. Was his positional flexibility that much of an asset last year?

Did those numbers meet or exceed replacement level for 1b, 3b, or OF? Or is he still an asset when you have one guy that can be replacement level at all those positions (and 2b)?

Jan 14, 2011 14:37 PM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

In the abstract, in a world where all players are available for purchase and every team has equal access to them, he may not be an ideal selection. However, real teams don't have that luxury; the Twins have a major financial commitment to a player with a better-than-MLB-average OBP, so the fact that he's not "just" a right fielder is sort of useful from a roster- and lineup-management perspective.

Keep in mind, the concept of an abstract replacement level isn't very handy here: the number of guys who can post a .270-something TAv and play all four corners isn't huge. Referring to last year's offensive production by position suggests that Cuddyer's above-average for left or third, below for right and first.

Jan 14, 2011 16:34 PM
 
Luke in MN

Well said. This year, with both Thome and Kubel screaming for PAs against RHP, Cuddyer's versatility may be the only thing keeping him from being simply the short side of a RF platoon. It will be interesting to see how Gardy uses him, as he's sort of a Twins institution at this point.

Jan 14, 2011 17:58 PM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

Indeed; while every player's ability to put balls in play varies, betting on Valencia's ability to produce a .345 BABIP year after year might be a bit optimistic. I don't think the possibility that Cuddyer plays a lot of third should Valencia slump in his sophomore year is all that unlikely, which is part of what makes having Cuddyer--and retaining Thome--so handy.

Jan 14, 2011 19:26 PM
 
amazin_mess

Anyone notice where Bill Smith said he's "optimistic that Morneau will be ready for spring training?"

"Optimistic" is a lot different than "will be" ready.

Jan 14, 2011 14:45 PM
rating: 3
 
Vince Galloro

"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."

Contrary to what some in Chicago (Steve Stone was one, I believe) were saying after the White Sox declined to re-sign Thome. All I could do was shake my head as Thome helped the Twins surpass the Sox again. Not that Thome alone was the difference, but he did his part, for sure.

Jan 17, 2011 07:11 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff
(11)

It was sillier still because Thome and Andruw Jones would not have been over-stocking--they would have been perfect. But instead, the Sox went the "utility" route, pretending that Mark Kotsay's readiness to stand where ordered represented value, and forgetting the "H" in DH.

Jan 17, 2011 12:05 PM
 
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