Jim Thome Returns to Philadelphia

The Phillies wasted little time in making its first move of the offseason, signing Jim Thome to a one-year deal worth $1.25 million. With just those details, and no specifics about his potential playing time or role, it’s still a fantastic move. Even with added details it’s difficult to find any flaws in a minimal commitment to an offensive force.

He may be 41 years old, but his numbers are still impressive. Since 2008, he has posted the following wOBAs: .370, .367, .437, .362. The man can still rake, and he gives the Phillies a legitimate bench power threat. While it’s tough to fault an 102-win team that played all five games of the Division Series, the 2011 squad was certainly lacking power off the bench. Ross Gload had the hips of a 70-year old man and redundancy was abound with Michael Martinez and Wilson Valdez. Thome can now serve as the left-handed power pinch-hitter as well as the designated hitter in interleague games. And given the Phillies championship aspirations, some smidgen of the rationale for making this move involves his potential role in the World Series.

The move also satisfies fans from a nostalgic point of view.

Thome is an important figure in Philadelphia. His 2003 signing marked the turning point of the organization, coming on the heels of Scott Rolen‘s and Curt Schilling‘s departures. Both players sought trades essentially due to ownership’s unwillingness to spend or do what it took to build a winner.

Free agents weren’t enthralled to play in Philadelphia, but it was clear the team had some very promising pieces in the majors and on their way to the majors. Plus, a new stadium was around the corner. It was the perfect time to make a splash.

He was that splash. The most sought after free agent that offseason, Thome signed a lucrative six-year deal to join the Phillies.

The beleaguered Phillies fanbase was instantly rejuvenated. This was a legitimate star choosing to play for a team that was recently forced to trade away its stars. Then Thome hit 89 home runs over 2003-04, including his 400th homer, challenged Mike Schmidt‘s then single-season home run record — which Ryan Howard subsequently demolished — and became one of the most beloved players in franchise history.

The marriage was short-lived, as Howard was knocking on the door and Thome’s elbow injury proved serious. Thome hit the DL on July 1, 2005 and underwent season-ending elbow surgery in mid-August. The Phillies traded him to the White Sox for Aaron Rowand that offseason and that was that.

Thome would hit his 500th and 600th homers in the American League and have another nostalgia party with the Cleveland Indians last season. But throughout it all, it remained clear that mutual interest existed between he and the Phillies. Even in 2010, five years after he was traded away, Thome received a thunderous standing ovation at Citizens Bank Park as he circled the bases following a home run against the Phillies.

He was on the Phillies radar last season but the perfect storm of preventative issues kept him away from mentor Charlie Manuel. Thome needed consistent PAs to get to 600 homers, but injuries prevented him from achieving the milestone until after the trade deadline. At that point, the Phillies were at the bottom of the waiver wire and unable to work out a deal. When Thome announced his intentions to play in 2012, it seemed that, as long as the Phillies had interest, a reunion with Charlie Manuel was inevitable.

Now that he’s back in the fold, how will the Phillies use him?

Clearly, Thome is going to pinch-hit for the team and serve them in a capacity similar to Jason Giambi‘s role with the Rockies. Thome is no longer an everyday starter in a league lacking a designated hitter, but it’s hard to believe he never plays first base for the Phils, especially if Ryan Howard misses significant time. Don’t expect Thome to start 85 percent of the games Howard misses but he could certainly spot-start here and there. He wasn’t a defensive maven back in 2003, but was adept at scooping the ball and was fairly sure-handed despite limited range. Some offseason practice and what’s to say he couldn’t play a passable first base for 10 of the, say, 50 games Howard misses?

The move wasn’t predicated on Howard’s injury. Even if Howard was the picture of health, Thome still re-signs with the Phillies. It’s just that his signing could have the added bonus of his ironic filling in for an injured Howard — ironic since the opposite happened back in 2005 — every so often.

But the move is still great even if Thome literally does nothing but pinch-hit and DH in interleague games. He plays another season where he wants to play, and the Phillies solve a problem with the player the entire fanbase wanted to solve that problem.




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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.


42 Responses to “Jim Thome Returns to Philadelphia”

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  1. Justin says:

    I really like this move, it shows the team is not being complacent.

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  2. nik says:

    Cue the ‘they got even older LOLZ’ crowd.

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  3. Kevin Wilson says:

    The “old team” crowd certainly isn’t concerned about 1-year bench players, they talk about the core of the team aging.

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  4. Grebe says:

    So Jim Thome is leaving Cleveland to sign a free agent deal with the Phillies. That’s pretty incredible. Speaking of incredible, have you guys seen the new trailer for Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers?

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  5. Richie says:

    I’ll be a bit of a wet blanket. Looks to me like Thome didn’t play an inning in the field this year. If he flat out can’t do it anymore, until Howard gets back Mayberry will have to cover 1st base vs. righties and lefties, as no player with any other option will join the Phillies knowing he gets cut soon as Howard returns, with Mayberry and Thome also on the roster. Unless Mayberry starts hitting righties, that’ll be one big hole in the lineup compared to what the other team puts out there every game.

    So Thome’s solely a pinch hitter. I also applaud the move. But with managers shuttling relievers in and out of games nowadays, an old team like the Phillies will likely be looking at some in-season roster crunches here and there.

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    • hk says:

      He’s replacing Ross Gload, who played all of 85 innings in the field last year. The move from Gload to Thome shouldn’t cause the team much roster shuffling, especially since they have a number of guys who can field multiple positions (i.e. Polanco, Martinez and Mayberry) and they may sign a free agent or two who can do so (i.e. Cuddyer or Betemit).

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      • Richie says:

        No, with Howard out for who knows how long, Thome or SOME-body is replacing that much of Ryan Howard.

        And you’re taking a very rose-eyed view of the Phillie roster. Mayberry is wedded to first till Howard comes back, Polanco is ancient, and Martinez is awful.

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      • DD says:

        Richie, Utley can also play first (though he hasn’t recently), with Polanco playing 2nd and possibly Cuddyer/Betemit playing 3B. You seem to forget the rest of the offseason still has to happen.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      I agree with your analysis that he won’t field. I actually imagine that would be part of the agreement. If he does, it would be in a WS game were Howard is injured and he would play the bag and maybe field a soft line drive hit at him. He didn’t even have a glove in the Minnesota clubhouse in 2010.

      However, there is no reason to play this guy in the field, he is a pinch hitter who you then pinch run for, and (more importantly), he is a fan favorite. You get a lot of good will from signing him. Maybe makes up a little for the NLDS.

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      • nik says:

        He’s going to give 1st base a shot.

        “I looked in the mirror and said, ‘OK, I haven’t played first base, but also I like the challenge of preparing over the winter to get ready for it,’” Thome said. “In the past, whether through a trade or whatever, during the season I think it’s a little bit different than getting an opportunity to prepare all winter for it. It’ll be a great challenge. It’ll be fun. We’ll see what happens.”

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      • joser says:

        So I guess he bought Brad Pitt’s line.

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      • Richie says:

        Looks to me like Thome played one game at 1st base in 2007, otherwise hasn’t donned a glove since. If the Phillies are lucky, Thome will injure himself early enough in spring training that he’ll have sufficient time to heal up so that he can do his pinch hitting job come Opening Day.

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      • Richie says:

        OK, he played 3 games in the field in 2006, 52 in 2005 before going out with right elbow surgery. So at age 41 he’s going to try to play the field for the first time in 7 years. OW-wie.

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      • MikeS says:

        28 innings at 1B total from 2006 – 2011. Granted, that’s all in the AL where he could DH but I would be surprised if he sees anything other than emergency duty there.

        The 10 – 15 games suggested by Seidman would be 3 – 5 times as much as he’s worn a glove in the last 6 years.

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  6. Math Nerd says:

    Hopefully his reactions are still quick enough. Would hate if the guy gets killed by a shot to the head.

    And before you guys call me an idiot, I say this somewhat tongue in cheek.

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  7. Jon Bongiovi says:

    Thome + Mayberry at 1B > Howard. 5/$125 should be keeping every Phils fan alive up at night.

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    • Chris R says:

      Well, obviously I’m up at night, but not because of your warped equation. Nobody thinks Mayberry and/or Thome will outperform Howard in 2012 or at any foreseeable time during Howard’s contract.

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      • gabriel says:

        {raises hand}

        I’ll take Thome over Howard this coming year; after all, Thome has been the better hitter each of the past two years, and recovering from a snapped Achilles’ tendon isn’t going to help Howard.

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    • hk says:

      Phillies fans, especially those that frequent this site, sleep well at night even though we know that Howard’s 5/$125M extension eclipses the remainder of Vernon Wells’s deal and the remainder of Barry Zito’s deal as the worst contract in MLB. We sleep well because the Phillies have shown the ability to continue to spend more dollars to cover up for their GM’s poor negotiating skills. After all, they have remained one of the best teams in baseball over the past 3 years despite the horrific Ibanez contract and the too-long Polanco contract among others. They won 102 games in 2011 while paying $20M for 1.6 WAR from Howard this year, not to mention while paying $11.5M for -1.3 WAR from Ibanez.

      As long as Halladay, Lee and Hamels (assuming they extend him) continue to pitch as expected for the next 2 or 3 years, the hitters perform as expected and the farm system produces a few players to supplement the team via call-up or (more likely) trade, the Phils should be able to deal with overpaying Howard.

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      • Richie says:

        Agree that the Phillies have 2 good years in front of them. Given that it’s a pretty old team, don’t know about that 3rd one.

        But after that, they’re looking alot like the Astros. Which fan-wise, I think most would see as a fair tradeoff.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        The Astros? How much is the Astros’ payroll? How much depth do the Astros’ have in the minor league system?

        The Phillies are not in any way comparable to the Astros. Even paying Howard 25 million a year, they have another 150 million to pay other players.

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      • Richie says:

        The Phillies in 2015 will look alot like the Astro team that had the aging Oswalt, Berkman and Lee surrounded by very, very little. No chance to compete for a pennant, and years away from an effective rebuild.

        Which again, I think would be a fair trade for their current run.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        “how much is the Astros payroll” how much was the Phillies payroll the last time they weren’t winning? Philly fans act like they’re the Yankees or Sox, you’re not, you have fickle fans that when the team sucks, the park isn’t going to be packed, so paryoll goes down.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        Or they will look much like the 2011 Yankees. A lot of money tied up in A-Rod, Jeter, Posada, ect, but still a quality team. The Phillies have much more in common with the Yankees than the Astros.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        Right now they do. The Phillies are more like the Giants. Fringe big budget that can handle a big payroll when they’re successful.

        Also, the Yankees could probably make a profit with a 300M payroll. The Phillies are probably maxed out right now.

        I have no idea why Philly fans think the way they do or where they get the idea that they’ll always have a high payroll. They’ve been successful for about 6 years and have had high attendance/high payroll for about 5. There isn’t a strong history of it.

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      • Jon Bongiovi says:

        That’s exactly right. The idea that is being pushed around by Philly fans that the Phils are on par with NYY/BOS or even NYM is so utterly laughable it’s not even worth addressing. Their team is a distant second in their own TOWN to the Eagles, and they have never shown the ability to draw during lean years. Credit the Phils’ ownership for putting pedal to the metal and putting the money they have into this team, but when the Phils drop back into the 85-win range, and it is inevitable, the attendance will drop, so will the payroll, and so will the sustainability of the franchise.

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      • DavidCEisen says:

        What does the popularity of the Eagles have to do with the popularity of the Phillies? It’s not so clear that the Eagles are more popular than the Phillies anyway.

        The increase in spending is also related to the moving into a new stadium.

        The Phillies have access to a much larger market than the Giants, who not only play in smaller city but also have a competing team across the bay.

        Anyway your argument doesn’t make sense. Basically you are saying that the Phillies will be bad because once they are bad they won’t have the same access to capital. If the Phillies remain good they will continue to have the money to add and retain players. Of course that depends on making good decisions, but the same is true with the Yankees and Red Sox and the Phillies have shown the ability to absorb bad contracts.

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      • Phrozen says:

        This is getting out of hand.

        You all need to realize that, while historically, the Phillies have been thought of as a “small-market” team, Philadelphia and environs is the fourth-largest media market in the US, and the Phils don’t have to share that market with a second team.

        That’s not to say they have a bigger pull than the Yankees or Red Sox, obviously, but to write them off as “done in 2015″ is a bit disingenious.

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  8. Jon L. says:

    I’m surprised at the unmitigated optimism expressed in the article. If I’m a Phillies fan, I have mixed feelings about this move. They’re planning to devote a full-time roster spot in a non-DH league to a player that hasn’t played the field in several years, and I think it’s a questionable move. You’re losing either a real utility player or another arm in the pen. The argument in favor seems to be that the Phillies didn’t make much use of their final roster spot last year either (Ross Gload), but that’s not the goal.

    The upside, of course, is that you’ve got a potentially dangerous bat to DH a few games and to pinch-hit. The downside includes that he can’t play much, and also that even Jim Thome gets a year older every year – sometime within the next couple of years he’s going to become completely useless to a Major League team. Paul Molitor was about replacement level at 41; Edgar Martinez was below replacement level; Frank Thomas was retired. The ageless Matt Stairs hit .194. I’ll be rooting for this year’s 41-year-old NL DH’s (Thome and Giambi), but let’s not have great expectations.

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    • Eric Seidman says:

      The Phillies had the fewest relief innings of any NL team in 2011, so having another reliever probably won’t be an issue. The bench already had redundancies with Michael Martinez and Wilson Valdez so their entire bench was screwy, not just the final roster spot. You’re right in principal that the goal is to maximize utility out of every position, but recent Phillies teams have never really been adept at bench-building.

      They felt they were in a position where that final roster spot could be stashed away on a guy like Thome. They have championship aspirations and wanted to commit $1.25 million to someone who can DH in interleague, pinch-hit in the regular season, and potentially give them a legit DH threat in the World Series.

      There aren’t any incentives either. I agree that Thome isn’t going to be productive into his mid-40s, but there’s little reason to dislike this deal unless the entire thing was predicated on his playing 1B for half a season. But it wasn’t.

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      • Richie says:

        I vote with Jon L., Eric.

        1) I don’t think any team can count on having the fewest relief innings in a season. Fewer than normal, yeah. But if the Phillies play a reliever short, they’re gambling on 4/5 of their starters staying healthy and effective. If they don’t, the Phillies lose some ability to mix and match.

        2) So long as Howard is out, there goes one of their bench redundancies. If Thome can’t play the field at all – which I sure don’t think he can – they’re now down to a 23-man roster. Playable, with good health. But figure even normal health for an aged team, they’ll face at least a few important situations where they’ll be running out an awful player. Like, say, 41-year-old Jim Thome defending 1st base.

        3) It’s not that unusual for a 41-year-old hitter to just totally and suddenly lose it. If Thome does, batting once a day they’d probably not even notice it till the all star break.

        Like Jon L., I do like the signing more than I dislike it. But I certainly see where it could wind up biting the Phillies in the heinie. And if they’re serious about Thome filling in even some at 1st while Howard’s out, man oh man oh man I don’t like the move at all.

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      • Eric Seidman says:

        There’s nothing to vote on, Richie. I’m not disagreeing with Jon L. I’m merely pointing out where the team was in making the decision. There are definitely risks associated with Thome, but given a substantially reduced role and little commitment, they are largely mitigated.

        Phils haven’t really been a mix and match team — while they’d benefit from doing that more often it just isn’t a material deterrent with Charlie Manuel at the helm.

        Thome is in Philly to pinch-hit and DH in interleague/World Series. He’s not going to play 1B unless the org is completely convinced he’s capable of it.

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      • Richie says:

        I guess I disagree on the degree of mitigation, Eric. I can see the Phillies wishfully projecting Thome to be tolerable in small bites at 1st base and have that blow up on them. I can see the Phillies’ old guys start falling like dominoes, and them then really wishing they weren’t one man short on the bench. Especially since their pitching could well be sufficient to prop up a mediocre lineup, but not an awful one. Yes, I still mildly like the gamble. But until Howard comes back, I think it’s a largely unmitigated one.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      But the Phillies are only out $1.25M and a spot on the 40 man roster. Afterall, if you want to move Thome to the DL, just but him at first for a few innings.

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  9. Franco says:

    Jim probably gets a couple shots at playing first during Spring Training. If he stinks, than he takes the Matt Stairs/Jason Giambi role. If he can fake it than he spot starts the first half of the season. Even if he falls off a cliff, I’m sure the Phils are fine with having a 700 OPS guy coming off the bench for a million. They eat 600k when Howard comes back if he can’t even pinch hit well.

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