April 20, 2008
BASEBALL: Not So Frank
The Blue Jays have unceremoniously cut Frank Thomas, and in the process insult our intelligence:
Thomas was hitless in his past 13 at-bats and had gone 4-for-35 since homering in three straight games April 5-8. Known as a slow starter, he batted .167 with three homers and 11 RBIs for Toronto this season.
Last season, Thomas batted .277, leading the team with 26 home runs and 95 RBIs.
"I don't know that we have the luxury of waiting two to three months for somebody to kick in because we can't let this league or this division get away from us," Ricciardi said.
Thomas' deal included a $10-million option for 2009 that would have kicked in automatically if he made 376 plate appearances this season. On Saturday, Thomas said the Blue Jays had benched him to prevent him from reaching that mark.
"It's pretty obvious," Thomas said. "Sixty at bats isn't enough to make that decision. I'm angry, I know I can help this team. My career isn't going to end like this."
Thomas did not shake hands with his teammates following Toronto's 3-2 victory over Detroit Saturday and left the clubhouse without speaking to reporters.
Ricciardi said Thomas was more calm when they met Sunday, adding that the contract was not part of their discussion.
"That never came up," Ricciardi said. "I told Frank our decision is based on performance and his decision is based on not being able to be in the lineup."
There are many things that could be said for this decision - that John Gibbons needed to assert his authority over the team in the face of Thomas' griping about playing time, that the Jays aren't going to win anything this year and need to build for the future, that the move cuts expenses for the future...but two things that can't be said are that this is strictly about 2008 performance and that it's not at all about money.
The latter is obvious; as to the former, the main point here is to create playing time for Shannon Stewart in left field, thus forcing Matt Stairs into the DH role (note that Stairs is 40 and Stewart 34; this will make much more rebuilding sense once that PT goes to Adam Lind). And Stewart is batting .235/.341/.294, not much better than Thomas' .167/.306/.333.
In fact, the Big Hurt, even having a bad year through the 19th of April, still has 3 homers and 11 walks in 16 games/60 at bats. A 4-for-35 slump is way too early to give up on a guy who batted .277/.377/.480 and drove in 95 runs last season. In 2006, Thomas was batting .178/.300/.373 on May 20, and hit .302/.408/.603 the rest of the way.
Given that Thomas can't really play 1B, the market for his services is pretty narrow, but I'd be surprised if someone doesn't snap him up (Seattle, maybe? Minnesota? Baltimore? Tampa, if Jonny Gomes can go back to the outfield?).
Toronto's on the hook for his salary this year.
Who would be on the hook for the option if he signs elsewhere? The signing team, I assume. Not Toronto, right? That's a wee bit of a deterrent. But it may only mean no club signs him before Memorial Day.
If he clears waivers, I'd assume his option is void.
If someone picks him up on waivers, the option would come along.
Aging players (and their agents) need to look at this and realize that language in contracts can cut both ways. Automatic vesting options based on AB's gives management an incentive not to play the player. This shouldn't surprise anyone. Players have known since the beginning of baseball that you are judged differently when you get to the north side of 35. If you're 28 and get off to a slow start it is assumed you will work your way out of it. If you're 40 and get off to a lousy start it is assumed you need a fork stuck in ya. Thomas and his agent put language in his contract that gave the team an incentive not to let him work it out with 4 AB's a day. Manny Ramirez is a slightly similar situation. He has a couple club options (not based on AB's) and all of a sudden he shows up this year in great shape determined to have a great season so last year will be forgotten when Boston considers those options.
I've been teasing a friend of mine, who is as big a Mariners fan as he is a loather of Barry Bonds, that Seattle was going to pick Bonds up since Jose Vidro simply can't be the DH for a contending club. If their top 4 starters continue to pitch as well as they have they are going to be in that race and relying on Ritchie Sexson and Raul Ibanez to provide your power isn't going to get you into the playoffs. Maybe Thomas gives the Mariners a more palatable option. Actually, I hope not. I'd rather enjoy Seattle fans up-close struggle with the concept of rooting for Bonds.
considering the dimensions of safeco field and their recent body of work (not to meantion career body of work, not that iit's a real sin on Thomas rather that ummm. Bonds is like the best all time )there's little reason to think that Bonds wouldn't be the better answer.
Of course, I suppose that if your going to give so much fuss about the * problem and all that crap, might as well go for Thomas.
The Jays are a chump organization, habitually 3rd place behind the two titans, and soon enough will be habitually 4th place behind the surging Rays. Ricciardi , Beane disciple or not, has been a failure, plain and simple. Not that I'd want someone like Colletti over him, but a failure nonetheless. Cutting Thomas is a pure penny pinching move that hurts them on the field without bringing up Lind. The Big Hurt goes in on the 1st ballot in my book, and can help you even when he's hitting .220