Toronto Blue Jays, Now With Less Hurt

The Toronto Blue Jays released disgruntled designated hitter Frank Thomas this afternoon, several days after deciding that he wouldn’t be a regular in their line-up anymore. Thomas was unhappy with that decision and made sure the team knew about it, so they made the decision to part ways.

The initial reaction to this may be something of a surprise, since there are several MLB teams who Thomas would represent an upgrade at DH for. However, once you begin to look at his contract, the picture becomes a bit clearer. Thomas has a $10 million option for 2009 that vests if he receives 376 plate appearances this season (based on a 1,000 PA threshold over the ’07-’08 seasons combined). The Blue Jays, obviously, had no interest in paying him $10 million next year (no other club wants to either), so their options essentially included turning him into a part time player or releasing him. They tried the former and Thomas threw a fit, putting two and two together to realize that his benching was more about money and less about performance.

By releasing Thomas, they save themselves from having him on the hook next year, but also cost themselves a major league hitter in a season where they are trying to contend in the A.L. East. While Thomas got off to a slow slart, his overall skillset is essentially the same; his BB% and K%, and HR/FB% are all essentially the same, and four of his ten hits have gone for extra bases. Here are his patience, contact, and batted ball charts:

Frank Thomas BB%

Frank Thomas K%

Frank Thomas GB/FB/LD

He’s still a flyball, power hitting, right-hander with a good eye at the plate and good enough contact rates – the early results are based on a ridiculously low rate of getting balls in play to find holes.

Frank Thomas BABIP

Thomas’ speed makes him unlikely to post a BABIP of league average or higher, but his current rate is unsustainable. The ball will start finding holes, and Thomas’ production will rebound much closer to last year’s performance. The first several weeks of his season don’t give us any real reason to expect Thomas to continue to struggle like this.

It will be interesting to see who bids on his services as a free agent. Since he was released, the Blue Jays contract does not carry over to the new team that signs him, and the vesting option is no longer an issue. Teams like the Mariners, A’s, and Yankees should all be interested in his services, and it wouldn’t be that surprising to see a small bidding war break out for The Big Hurt. While the contract the Jays gave Thomas nullified his trade value, there will still be teams interested in adding that bat to their line-up.

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Dave is a co-founder of and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

7 Responses to “Toronto Blue Jays, Now With Less Hurt”

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  1. Tom Au says:

    As I recall, the Oakland As made a major mistake in 2006 when they elected to sign Thomas for only one year at $500,000, rather than two years at $1 million per. With a WPA of 3.24 (that turned the As’ hitting into an asset instead of its usual liability status), he took them to the playoffs in 2006. In essence, the club could have had an option on the man in 2007 for an additional $1.5 million.

    Clearly, he’s worth more than $1.5 million and less than $10 million. It will be interesting to see where he finally falls in.

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  2. Jerry P says:

    There can only be a bidding war if team were willing to pay more than the Jays already owe for this year or were foolish enough to want to guarantee next. No way that’s happening. It’s possible he may receive several phone calls, but no one’s gonna pay him $7 million + so that he actually makes more money.

    Seems like the AL has gone from no DH spots available at the beginning of the year to every DH spot being filled by someone severely underperforming or possibly done.

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  3. Dave Cameron says:

    I’d expect that Thomas will ask for a potential two year deal, actually – that’s where the bidding war would come from. He’ll almost certainly sign for the league minimum for the remainder of 2008, but since there figure to be several teams interested, he’s got some leverage to ask for some guaranteed money in 2009. He probably won’t get a high base contract for next year, but he’s got enough left to ask for several million guaranteed in 2009 with incentives that could make the deal worth something similar to what his vesting option would have paid him.

    So, for instance, I’m guessing he’ll sign a one year deal with a club option for 2009 for $5 million (with escalators that push it to a potential of $10 million) and a $2 million buyout. Or something like that.

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  4. MrIncognito says:

    It will be interesting to see where he ends up. If Minnesota decides the Central looks winnable, he would be a big upgrade for them. I would say Seattle could use him, but that condemns their fans to a season of watching Ibanez in the OF, and even though I’m an A’s fan I can’t wish that kind of hurt on anyone. Maybe he’s willing to play 1B and the Giants want another 40 year old HOFer.

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  5. tangotiger says:

    David, can you explain how the releasing works. Normally, a player is guaranteed his salary. So, does this mean that Thomas will earn whatever he’s supposed to earn for the rest of this season?

    But, if a team picks him up prior to some waiver period, the Jays contract remains in force? And, if they wait until after the waiver period, they get to sign him to a new contract (but the Jays contract still remains in force, to get his guaranteed money)?

    The way it’s being written about, it seems more like a non-guaranteed NFL-style release.

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  6. Richard says:

    I believe Keith Law in a post on Primer cleared up the monetary issue. Toronto owes him all his money for 2008. The 2009 option is null and void. He can be signed for MLB minimum by any organization for 2008.

    I have a question for you Tango. Is the usual aging pattern for a player of this age to suddenly fall off a cliff or hit a wall and become essentially useless as the Jays are intimating? My understanding ( perhaps by reading your Book Blog) was that players lost 3-5% of their ability per year after reaching their peak. Does this speed up after 40? Thomas was an above average hitter last year ( +21.4 Btn runs). His peak was about + 70 runs. He’s have to suddenly loose 30% of his peak value merely to become an average hitter. Is this the normal progression barring injury, to suddenly turn into a pumpkin.

    Thanks. Can you direct me to any research on this matter?

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  7. tangotiger says:

    When in doubt, always believe in a continuous function, rather than a “falling off the cliff”. It’s less sexy, but it’s also more true.

    Click on my name, and then go to the very bottom, and you will see what the chart looks like. It’s based on limited sample size, obviously. But the decline does accelerate the older you get.

    I also have this chart which you may prefer.

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