Free Agent Stock Watch: Jim Thome

Jim Thome needs 15 more plate appearances to reach 350 for the season, which would unlock an $0.1MM incentive bonus within the one-year, $1.5MM deal he signed with Minnesota in the offseason.  Thome has already hit two such plate appearance clauses, boosting his season total up to $1.7MM — still a huge bargain for the Twins given Thome's team-leading 25 homers and .631 slugging percentage.

The future Hall-of-Famer said he might retire a champion if the Twins win the World Series, but in all likelihood, Thome will be back in 2011 to gun for the 600-homer club.  (Thome enters Thursday's action with 589 career long balls.)  With so many teams looking for offense this winter, here's what interested clubs should be considering when looking at Thome.

The Pros

  • Thome has a whopping 1.155 OPS against right-handed pitching.
  • Though he'll easily command more than he did in 2010, Thome is still a bargain compared to pricier DH options on the market like Adam Dunn, David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez.
  • He just missed out on Type B free agent status, so a team can sign Thome without draft pick compensation.
  • Thome is universally regarded as one of the most well-liked and well-respected players in the game.  This intangible factor shouldn't be ignored when a general manager is deciding whom to bring into a clubhouse, especially in the case of a young team looking for a veteran presence.

The Cons

  • Thome hasn't been anything but a DH or a pinch-hitter for the last three seasons.  His lack of a defensive position will limit his market to American League teams.
  • The 40-year-old Thome has battled nagging thigh and back injuries this season and can't be counted on to play every day.
  • Along those same lines, Thome's slash line against lefties this season (in 91 PA) is .238/.297/.476.  Thome will need to be paired with a right-handed hitting DH who can pick up the slack against southpaws.

The Verdict

It seems another one-year contract is in the cards for Thome, who probably wouldn't have it any other way given that he's toying with retirement.  Despite the fact that he's only suited for a platoon DH role, Thome will probably be able to get a deal worth as much as $5MM.  Such a total would still be a steal if Thome can replicate his 2010 campaign.

Which AL teams could take an interest in Thome?  Minnesota is the first choice; Thome has become a folk hero at Target Field due to his role in the Twins' AL Central title and the club already has interest in bringing him back.

Aside from the Twins, the Red Sox (if they don't pick up Ortiz's 2011 option), Tigers, Angels, Rays and White Sox could also give Thome a look.  Chicago pursuing Thome would be rather ironic, since it was the team's failure to pursue Thome last winter and subsequent lack of production from the DH role that was allegedly one of the factors in the Ozzie Guillen/Kenny Williams tension over the summer.  New York might also have an interest; if the Yankees stick to their plan of using the designated hitter spot to give Alex Rodriguez and Jorge Posada a break from playing the field, they could DH those two against lefties and sign Thome to start against righties. 

Baltimore, Oakland, Seattle and (if Adam Lind moves to first base) Toronto are teams who are looking for offense and might have an opening at DH.  If Thome is still looking for his first World Series title, however, he's more likely to sign with a contender.

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