Thome Leaning Towards Playing In 2011

2:06pm: Joe Christensen and La Velle E. Neal III from the Minneapolis Star Tribune also spoke to Thome about a potential return in 2011. Christensen and Neal remind us that Thome has repeatedly stated how much he enjoyed Minnesota, and provide this quote from the man with 589 home runs to his name:

"I love the game. I'd love to come back, I really would, and Minnesota was a great place, so we'll see how the winter goes. It would be great."

My own speculation, but Thome's potential return to Minnesota might depend on the Twins' decision on Jason Kubel's $5.25MM club option for 2011. Kubel, expected to be the regular DH in 2010, was forced into right field when Michael Cuddyer switched to first base following Justin Morneau's season-ending concussion. That lineup juggle opened the door for Thome's strong 2010. After posting such impressive numbers, he may be able to find more playing time with a different contender if Kubel returns.

Kubel's .249/.323/.427 line doesn't look nearly as impressive as Thome's, but he gives the Twins the options of playing him in the outfield (though his career -18.9 UZR/150 in the outfield doesn't inspire confidence). He did hit .300/.369/.539 with 28 home runs in 2009, so he's capable of being a highly productive DH. The Twins hold a $350K buyout on Kubel's option.

9:14am: The Twins' season came to an abrupt and disappointing end last night, but it sounds like Jim Thome won't allow his career to suffer the same fate. Thome kept it short and sweet with Kelsie Smith and Brian Murphy of The St. Paul Pioneer Press after the game, saying "Yeah, I think I'm coming back [for 2011]." Last month he admitted that retirement would have been tempting if the Twins won it all. 

The 40-year-old Thome became a folk hero in Minnesota this season, something that tends to happen when you hit .283/.412/.627 with 25 homers in 340 plate appearances. He absolutely annihilated righthanded pitching, hitting .302/.445/.698 with 19 homers off pitchers of the opposite hand. At .241/.298/.471, he wasn't all that terrible against lefties either. With 589 career homers to his credit, Thome should become the eighth member of the 600 home run club next summer.

Thome signed a one-year deal worth just $1.5MM last offseason (he did earn another $200K in bonuses tied to plate appearances), the bargain signing of the year. MLBTR's Mark Polishuk looked at Thome's free agent stock two weeks ago, and you have to figure it's pretty high right now.

MLBTR's Steve Adams also contributed to this post.



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