According to ESPN’s Jayson Stark, the Phillies are actively shopping Jim Thome to AL teams – apparently giving up on him as a pinch-hitter. Should the Tigers enter the chase? Or at least start kicking some tires?
There are three big reasons that people will say that they shouldn’t: Thome’s age (41), his health (recurring back problems) and the fact that he can only DH. Oh, and that whole “lefty” thing too. To all those I say: “So What?” There are three much more important reasons that the Tigers should make an offer: he can mash, he’ll come cheap and the Tigers DH situation is about the worst in the AL – many NL teams have, in fact, done better with their DHs in interleague play than have the Detroit Tigers. This should not be.
Why would he come cheap (given that he can mash…) well, concerns over age and health would come into play – but primarily it’s because Thome can only DH. So you’re looking only at AL teams, in the playoff chase, with a genuine need for a DH. If it isn’t Detroit the only other logical destination would seem to be (as pointed out by Mark Polishuk at MLBTR) the Baltimore Orioles. DH Nick Johnson is spending a lot of time on the DL, but the Orioles also have two third basemen with solid bats and terrible gloves in Mark Reynolds and Wilson Betemit. I don’t doubt that the Orioles will be looking to add players before the deadline – that franchise is desperate for a playoff run to bring fans back to that beautiful park – but I have the feeling that they’ll be looking to upgrade other positions first. Even if they are in the running… how much is anybody going to pay for a 41-year-old DH with a sore back? Add in the fact that the Phillies have basically no use for him at all now that interleague play has run its course (and probably wouldn’t even if they were to vault back into the playoff picture by the deadline)… Cheap. He’ll be cheap. Maybe finally somebody that they Tigers can actually bring in for Rob Brantly.
So why would the Tigers want him? The aforementioned awful production from Tigers’ DHs for one. We have heard a lot about the Tigers’ need to add a right-handed bat (usually to play DH) since the Tigers don’t seem to be able to hit left-handed pitching. Obviously that isn’t something that adding Thome could accomplish – but I wouldn’t argue that it’s something that we need to add a guy in order to do. I made the case a week ago that what the Tigers needed wasn’t a DH (or necessarily a right-handed bat) but rather a guy who could outhit Brennan Boesch while playing good defense in the outfield. That still stands – but it’s certainly not the Tigers only need. The Tigers primary DH – Delmon Young – does just fine against left-handed pitching, it’s righties he can’t hit. This year his OPS vs. Left is .804, vs. Right a measly .615. Whether the Tigers team as a whole is hitting lefties well or not has to be separated from whether the Tigers terrible DH is hitting lefties well and HE at least IS.
I say bring in Thome, keep Delmon, and let those two platoon at DH. Who moves to make room? Brennan Boesch needs to spend some time in Toledo figuring out where it all went wrong. While Andy Dirks is on the DL, Don Kelly and Ryan Raburn can do just fine at replacing Boesch’s weak offense and adding vastly superior defensive range. As for the risk that Thome bounces back and forth between the active roster and the DL – that isn’t such a big problem if the Tigers don’t lose any players from the organization when they add him and they shouldn’t have to. The last reason I want Thome to be a Tiger? There’s nothing I enjoy more than watching a Tiger wreck his former AL Central team – you know the psychological agony Indians fans endured watching Jhonny Peralta and Victor Martinez beat them or White Sox fans watching Magglio Ordonez. Over his long career Thome has been a part of some very good Indians teams, some very good White Sox teams and even some very good Twins teams. It’s a three in one deal!