Now that Travis Hafner is in pinstripes, it appears the only plausible external option to fill Cleveland’s designated hitter vacancy is Jim Thome. On Thursday Ken Rosenthal seemingly put that rumor to bed, but it’s still likely to be a subject of debate among Tribe fans until he signs elsewhere.
So in this edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, we asked our panelists (featuring guest contributors Kevin Schneider from Did the Tribe Win Last Night? and Andrew Zajac from Indians Baseball Insider): Should the Indians sign Jim Thome?
Kevin Schneider (Did the Tribe Win Last Night?): The Indians should sign up a sculptor to begin working on a statue of Jim Thome within the confines of Progressive Field. But, no, they should not re-sign him to platoon as a designated hitter. The Tribe already brought him back, in the 2011 season, to repair the relationship with Cleveland that roughened when he signed in Philadelphia as a free agent after the 2002 season. He would be an asset in the clubhouse more than the lineup, so perhaps a coaching or roving hitting instructor gig could be in his future.
Last season, with Baltimore and Philadelphia, Thome batted .252 with 8 HRs and 25 RBIs. I’m betting the planned platoon Terry Francona has planned will top that production and, as a bonus, keep bats of Asdrubal Cabrara, Carlos Santana, and Jason Kipnis in the lineup with occasional rest. Let’s all tip our hats to Big Jim, eventually retire his number, and thank him for all the shots that bounced over the picnic area past Cleveland’s center field.
Andrew Zajac (Indians Baseball Insider): The Indians are loaded with young talent. Most few this season as a building year, possibly a year or two away from contention. Jim Thome is 42 years old and will turn 43 years old during the season. To me, it makes zero sense to sign Thome. I love Thome and believe he would be a great guy to have in the clubhouse, a leader, and a guy who could provide valuable tools to young players.
That said, how much production can Thome really bring to the table? He only hit 8 HR last year and 15 total extra base hits. His WAR in 2012 was 0.3. Thome’s numbers can only further decline from there. I would rather give another young player an opportunity to win the job out of camp. As I mentioned, this probably won’t be a year of contention, so why not use it to see what players we can truly depend on going forward?
Yan Gomes, Mike McDade, and Chris McGuiness are three names worth mentioning that could win the job in spring training. It would also give the Indians the flexibility to rotate the DH spot. If Santana needs a break from the plate, if they want to give Mike Aviles at-bats, slide Mark Reynolds or Nick Swisher there every once and a whole, and so forth. Other than veteran leadership, the Indians would be better off saving the money and relying on their young roster.
Jeff Mount: I have to say no. If it was the old days and you could keep someone on your roster to pinch hit, I would think about it. But with 12-man staffs I would rather have the extra bench guy and spread the DH duties around.
Steve Kinsella: Thursday afternoon Ken Rosenthal announced that the Indians were no longer interested in signing Jim Thome as they aren’t interested in signing a full-time DH. Since I like a DH and bench player that can hit home runs I’d rather start the season with Jim Thome in a limited part time DH/pinch hitter role and if he was unable to perform in this role he could retire a member of the Indians.
With that said I can see where Terry Francona is coming from. He is looking for a more versatile player to fill a spot on his roster. He may still want a DH but that player will have to be able to wear a glove somewhere on the field.
Katrina Putnam: Jim Thome will always be a hero in Cleveland, and he’s one of my all-time favorite players, but no, the Indians really shouldn’t sign him. He’s had a great career, and is still considered an extremely good clubhouse guy, but he’s 42. He’s at the end of his career, and the Indians aren’t in the position to gamble on his declining health. The only exception would be a deal similar in structure to the contract Travis Hafner received from New York, where the incentives are attendence-based. Even then, it seems like a big risk to take.
Brian Heise: I’m going to say no to Jim Thome. While I understand why and how he could potentially help the Indians as a part time DH, I have too many concerns about him staying healthy. At this point in his career, especially with a bad back, Thome has trouble staying on the field. The Indians need to have someone, or someones, in the DH spot that they can rely on to be consistent run producers. If Thome isn’t hitting home runs, what is his real value? He’s a baserunning log jam and a pulled muscle waiting to happen.
I also think the Indians need to move on from that chapter of their history. It was a nice story in 2011 when Thome made his return to Cleveland, but honestly it needs to end there. If he wants to sign a one day contract to retire as an Indian I’m down with that, but to be a part of the 40 man roster I can’t help but shake my head and ask “why?”
Lewie Pollis: I know I’m in the minority here, but I was disappointed by the news that the Indians have given up their pursuit of Jim Thome. Earlier this week, I tried to quantify just how much the difference would be between Thome and either Mike Aviles and Lou Marson, the most likely (if indirect) beneficiaries of the DH vacancy in terms of extra at-bats. The result: adding Thome would mean a projected improvement of as many as 21 runs over the course of the season, so going with a rotating DH instead is roughly the equivalent of replacing Michael Brantley with Ezequiel Carrera.
Looking at pure offensive runs created is admittedly taking a narrow view of the situation—other important factors include the other options to get at-bats at DH, the upside of rostering a more multidimensional player in Thome’s place, and Carlos Santana’s knees—but it’s still a huge difference and I’m skeptical that the other factors matter enough to negate it. Tribe fans might not like the idea of signing Thome now, but a few weeks of Jose Lopezes at DH could make them change their tune.