Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Word Up, Thome!

UDPATE: Thome has signed with the Twins. It's a one-year deal for $1.5 million.

Thanks to our FanHouse colleagues at The Dugout, Jim Thome's name has a whole different meaning.

The playful chat room simulations regularly feature Thome's character, WordUpThome, a takeoff of the phrase "Word Up, Homey."

For Minnesota Twins fans, the phrase could take on a new life this season, as the veteran slugger is possibly on his way.

The longtime American League slugger spent last season with the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Dodgers, who acquired him in a trade because the White Sox sucked.

Now, as a free agent, it appears Thome could end up in Minnesota, as the White Sox have told him they will not be re-signing him.

The deal in Chicago is that Thome, who hasn't played in the field since 2007, would be on the bench too much, as Sox manager Ozzie Guillen wants to give DH at-bats to regulars like Mark Kotsay, Paul Konerko, and Carlos Quentin as a means of keeping them fresh. A full-time DH doesn't appear to interest Chicago.

Meanwhile, the Twins have struggled mightily to consistently fill that spot with a power hitter.

While Thome's batting average has slipped into the .240s the last two years, he has continued to draw walks, hit for power, and drive in runs. Thome drove in 77 runs in 362 at-bats between the Sox and Dodgers a year ago, with Los Angeles using him almost exclusively as a pinch-hitter. Thome's life-time OBP is .404, and even with his average falling, he still posted OBPs in the .360s the last two years.

This is on par with what the Twins got out of the DH spot in 2009. With Jason Kubel serving as the primary DH (97 games), they got a .367 OBP out of their designated hitters. Where the Twins lacked at DH was run production. In 596 at-bats, Twins designated hitters only hit 22 home runs and drove in under 100 runs, both middle-of-the-pack numbers in the American League. An effective Thome gives them a bigger power threat in the middle of the order to compliment Justin Morneau.

The big drawback, should Thome sign, is that he is left-handed. So are Kubel, Morneau, and Joe Mauer. Kubel isn't much of a defensive threat, so he will still DH regularly, and you also have to question if Thome will get at-bats in Minnesota.

With Target Field set to open in April, the Twins do have more revenue coming in. This makes them a bigger threat in free agency, but more importantly makes them a better bet to be able to keep their own stars in the fold. Last year, the Twins had a payroll of under $70 million. If the economic model they eventually follow comes close to that of the Brewers, you can expect the Twins to be able -- in a much larger media market -- to push $90 million in the near future.

(Milwaukee will be around $80-85 million this year.)

Whether it's smart to spend some of this newfound money on an aging left-handed hitter like Thome remains to be seen. While he's been a super ambassador for the game and a character in the clubhouses he's been a part of, Thome doesn't bring anything to the table that the Twins don't already possess.

Not only that, but outside of Michael Cuddyer, their best hitters are already all left-handed, and adding Thome only increases the need for left-handed pitching in the American League Central. If the plan is to DH Kubel for 100 or so games, there's no point in signing Thome. Yes, he would give the Twins a big left-handed bat off the bench, but you already have three big left-handed everyday players, and there really isn't an option to use Thome in the field should you run short on bench guys in a long game.

With spring training approaching, it will be interesting to see where Thome lands, or if he lands at all.

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