Thome The First Phillies’ Domino To Fall

All Star Game, Ballparks, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2012 Baseball Guide, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Now that Jim Thome has been traded from the Phillies to the Orioles for two low level minor leaguers, no one’s come up with a realistic answer as to why he signed with the Phillies in the first place.

It only made moderate sense for the Phillies hoping that he’d be happy as a pinch-hitter and DH in inter-league play. It would be the height of arrogance (possible) that the Phillies were looking forward to a World Series for Thome to be the DH in the AL parks.

But did both parties really think Thome was going to be able to play first base?

In what world is Thome—even as he’s turning 42 in August—mentioned in the same breath with other former Phillies’ pinch hitters Greg Dobbs, Ross Gload and Matt Stairs?

Thome can still hit and be productive as a semi-regular DH in the American League. That’s why re-signing with the Phillies made little-to-no sense for him and was done far too early in the free agent process to give the pretense of preplanning on either side. It was a rushed reunion like divorced spouses rekindling a relationship and hoping it would work out a second time.

But those types of reunions rarely work out.

The return to Philadelphia was a decision based on sentimentality and the friendship between Thome and Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel.

As curious as the signing was in November, this trade is more curious.

Considering Thome had played 4 games at first base this season, Ryan Howard’s pending return had nothing to do with this trade. Thome was a pinch-hitter and Howard is their everyday first baseman. There’s no connection between the two.

The only obvious answer as to why this trade was made is that this is beginning of a Phillies’ sell off.

There’s no other explanation. Perhaps they’re going to give it another 3 weeks to see where they are before going full bore into sell mode and trading their two big name pending free agents Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino, but they’re preparing for that eventuality.

Even with the return of Chase Utley, they’ve lost 4 straight games. They’re 36-44, 10 ½ games out of first place in the NL East and 7 ½ games out of first in the Wild Card. The deficit can be overcome, but they have to win a few games of their own to do it.

They’re not auctioning Hamels and Victorino on July 1st, but you can bet if teams are calling GM Ruben Amaro Jr. to inquire about those two players, Amaro’s telling those teams that they’re not available…yet. He’s telling them to keep in touch and is thinking about what he wants in exchange for Hamels and Victorino.

You can also bet that the Phillies’ scouts are fanning out to look at the minor league systems of the teams that are calling about Hamels and Victorino so they have an idea of what to ask for if they do put them on the market.

Thome was the first domino.

If the Phillies don’t start winning soon, the other ones are going to fall by the end of the month.

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Thome Signing Makes Very Little Sense For Both Him And The Phillies

All Star Game, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Stats, World Series

Jim Thome hasn’t played first base in more than 3 games in a season since the last time he put on a Phillies uniform in 2005.

He played in 3 games at first base for the White Sox in 2006.

Ryan Howard—the player who made Thome expendable in 2005—is going to be out until May at the earliest after tearing his achilles tendon making the final out in the Phillies NLDS loss to the Cardinals.

But he’s going to be back.

None of this stopped the Phillies and Thome from coming to an agreement on a 1-year, $1.5 million contract.

The Phillies take defense seriously and with their pitching staff, it’s clear why. As likable as Thome is, it won’t take long before his lack of mobility becomes a problem if balls that should be caught are rolling through the right side of the infield.

Are the Phillies seriously considering using Thome—basically a statue and 41-years-old—at first base?

Is he a replacement as a lefty bat off the bench for Ross Gload? Gload could play the outfield and first base; Thome’s much more of an offensive threat.

And if they’re not intending to give him consistent at bats, then why did Thome sign with them so quickly when he could’ve waited to see if an offer from an American League club—the Red Sox; Blue Jays; Yankees; Mariners—came along so he could play more often? Thome hit 15 homers in 324 plate appearances with the Twins and Indians in 2011 and posted a still-impressive .361 on base percentage. He can still hit and is capable of playing regularly as a DH.

So why go to the National League where the DH is not an option?

I can’t imagine the Phillies using Thome at first base more than twice a week if he’s capable—and there’s no guarantee he will be—so he’s going to be a pinch hitter.

For the Phillies, it’s a great pickup…as long as they don’t intend to drastically compromise their defense to accommodate Thome.

For Thome, it’s a quick decision and conscious choice to be a very part-time player.

The Phillies sometimes make some odd decisions that eventually make sense.

Earlier this year, they were inquiring about Michael Young and no one understood why until it was discovered that Chase Utley would be out for a large chunk of the season and that Placido Polanco was battling multiple injuries; they could’ve used a versatile veteran like Young to fill in for Utley, Polanco and Jimmy Rollins.

Perhaps there’s a logical explanation for the Thome signing apart from him enjoying his time with the Phillies and not being bothered about getting, at most, 250 at bats for the whole season; but right now, I can’t see one other than nostalgia—and a signing based on nostalgia is not a good thing unless it’s for a one day contract.

And I never really understood those either.

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That Explains Michael Young

Free Agents, Media, Players, Spring Training

Explanations amid the bewilderment of why, why, why the Phillies were said to be kicking the tires of Michael Young a few weeks ago varied from overkill to my contention that GM Ruben Amaro, Jr. called the Rangers just to check-in on Young; see what it would take to get him; gauge how desperate the Rangers were to move him and if they’d provide any financial relief for Young’s remaining $48 million on his contract while simultaneously taking little in terms of talent back.

Now we know.

Chase Utley has a knee problem—patellar tendinitis—that has prevented him from playing in any spring training games so far and he received a cortisone shot yesterday. There’s no “cure” for tendinitis apart from rest and anti-inflammatory medicine to alleviate it or, as Utley just had, a shot to make it bearable so he can play.

The Young inquiry now has a basis in fact apart from wanting to get a highly expensive roving utility player. Considering the paucity of second basemen available, Young is a reasonable replacement for Utley; plus Young can play shortstop and third base (both Jimmy Rollins and Placido Polanco have had injury issues of their own in recent years).

Now it makes sense as to why (why, why) the Phillies were looking into Young.

This should probably present a lesson: there’s always a reason for teams to do what they do; despite my ravaging him for trading Cliff Lee for Roy Halladay so many moons ago, he had a reason for doing it; there’s always a reason.

Well, except for the Pirates.

But they don’t count.

In other Phillies news, Domonic Brown broke his hand swinging at a pitch in yesterday’s game against the Pirates—ESPN Story—setting off a firestorm of panic regarding the “injury-plagued” Phillies.

The purpose of this overreaction is beyond me.

Brown was surrounded by questions; the club has been looking into alternatives—Mike Morse recently and Jeff Francoeur in the winter—since Jayson Werth‘s departure, now they suddenly can’t live without him?

The Phillies will be fine for the time being with Ben Francisco and Ross Gload sharing right field until someone comes available at mid-season if Brown can’t handle the job.

Brown’s readiness for big league duty should be determined by his play; they should’ve shut their eyes and told Brown he was the right fielder and lived with him for the first couple of months of the season, sink or swim.

Then we get to the talk of the Phillies not being as offensively powerful as they’ve been in the past with age, injury concerns and the loss of Werth.

It’s shaky at best.

Let’s say hypothetically that their offense is compromised due to age and decline. So what? With that starting pitching, they’re not going to allow as many runs as they did in the past, therefore they won’t need to score as many.

All this talk about their bullpen being weak is nonsense. Both Ryan Madson and Brad Lidge are in their free agent years (Lidge has a $12.5 million option for 2012) and are looking to get paid; Jose Contreras was good last season; they don’t need to be the offensive juggernaut they were in prior years; and they’re still going to score plenty of runs.

Rollins’s fall from MVP in 2007 to what he is now has been steep and worrisome, but certain things tell me that Rollins is going to have a major comeback season.

He’s expressed a willingness to alter his approach from the arrogant and self-defeating “I’m gonna be J-Roll” silliness that’s been a byproduct of his loudmouthed, blustery personality; he’s a free agent at the end of the season and at age 32, wants to get that last big contract.

Naturally there’s a correlation between his sudden agreeable response to entreaties that he change his hitting strategy and him wanting to get paid; but considering Rollins’s massive ego, it cannot be dismissed that his faltering rep around baseball as a big-game threat also has something to do with this willingness to change.

The criticism and caution regarding the Phillies—their age, injuries and departures—exemplify grasping at straws hoping they won’t be as good as their talent indicates they will be.

And they’re wrong.

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