Jim Thome Rumors
The White Sox made one of the first big strikes of the offseason when they agreed to sign Jose Dariel Abreu to a six-year, $68MM deal. We've already collected some reaction to the Abreu signing and heard what it could mean for Paul Konerko's future with the Sox, so let's expand our look at the Windy City's baseball news to include the latest on the Cubs...
- "Depending on what is considered major," Abreu's signing will probably be the only major White Sox free agent move of the offseason, MLB.com's Scott Merkin writes. The Sox could still make further moves via trades, as Alexei Ramirez and Gordon Beckham have drawn some interest from other teams.
- Also from Merkin, GM Rick Hahn goes into detail about how the three-team trade from last July between the White Sox, Red Sox and Tigers developed. Chicago got an important piece for the future in Avisail Garcia while the deal is currently having a big impact on the ALCS, with Jake Peavy starting for Boston and Jose Iglesias starting at shortstop for Detroit.
- Jim Thome won't be the next White Sox hitting coach, Hahn told reporters (including CSN Chicago's Charlie Roumeliotis) during a conference call today. Still, Hahn praised Thome's work as a special assistant to the GM and predicted he would become a coach in the future.
- An NL executive tells Peter Gammons that while the White Sox may have overpaid for Abreu, they have "one of the half-dozen thinnest farm systems in the game and Abreu doesn’t cost them a draft choice." Gammons also hears mixed reviews of Abreu from a scout and a general manager, though the GM's team still offered Abreu $40MM.
- Rays bench coach Dave Martinez interviewed with the Cubs today about their managerial opening and now the club will move onto the next step of its hiring process, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune reports. Martinez joins Manny Acta, A.J. Hinch and Rick Renteria as contenders for the job, and while Renteria just underwent hip surgery, he is still "considered a very strong candidate."
- The Cubs would prefer to hire a bilingual manager since they have so many important Latin American prospects, FOX Sports' Jon Paul Morosi reports (Twitter links). Speaking Spanish isn't "a must" but it could be a tiebreaker if the Cubs are weighing equal candidates. Hinch is the only one of the four who doesn't speak Spanish, though the Cubs could still hire him to manage and hire Spanish-speaking coaches instead.
- CSN Chicago's Dave Kaplan spoke to several sources around the game about the four candidates. Martinez is seen as the clear best choice, Renteria was praised though there were some doubts about him as a first-time manager, Acta's unsuccessful stints managing the Indians and Nationals are strikes against him and Hinch drew scathing reviews. Kaplan, for his part, thinks the Cubs should hire Brad Ausmus.
The White Sox have announced that Jim Thome has joined the team's front office as a special assistant to general manager Rick Hahn. Thome will consult with Hahn and assistant GM Buddy Bell, work with the club's Major League staff and players, and also travel to the team's minor league affiliates to evaluate player performance.
Assuming this transition signals the official end of Thome's playing days, the 42-year-old will conclude a likely Hall of Fame career as a .276/.402/.554 hitter. In parts of 22 seasons for the Indians, White Sox, Phillies, Twins, Dodgers and Orioles, Thome blasted 612 home runs and racked up 1,699 RBIs, which rank seventh and 24th all-time, respectively.
Fangraphs pegs Thome's career value at 68.1 wins above replacement, while Baseball-Reference's version is more bullish at 72.8 WAR. According to B-Ref, he earned more than $142MM in his illustrious career.
Padres pitcher Andrew Cashner feels that the January 2012 trade that sent him to San Diego (with Kyung-Min Na) for Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates was good for him and for Rizzo, Bill Center of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. "I think it was a trade that certainly worked out well for both players involved," Cashner says. "The pitcher got to move to a pitcher’s ballpark. The hitter got to move to a hitter’s ballpark."
Rizzo, meanwhile, feels there wasn't a place for him in San Diego. "As soon as they traded for Yonder Alonso, I don’t think I was in the Padres’ plans," he says. "I can understand it. Yonder was probably better suited to Petco Park than I was." Rizzo had a strong season with the Cubs in 2012, while Cashner has struck out 19 batters in his first 19 1/3 innings in 2013 while showing off mid-90s velocity. Here are more notes from around the National League.
- The Phillies face "major questions," Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci writes. Pitchers Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay will cost the team $64.5MM in 2013, but it's questionable whether the rest of the roster can support them, Verducci argues. Big expenditures on those three pitchers, plus star veterans Ryan Howard and Chase Utley, meant the Phillies had to build a cheap outfield, says Verducci. The biggest problem in the outfield so far this season, however, is that Domonic Brown and Ben Revere have struggled. Those players aren't highly-paid, but they also aren't on the roster merely because they're cheap. Revere posted 3.1 wins above replacement in 2012, and Brown was a highly-regarded prospect. "We have a lot of guys in the outfield who have never done it over a full season and are starting to get older, as far as being considered young players," a Phillies employee says.
- Jim Thome, who played for the Phillies and Orioles in 2012, is hoping to return to baseball later this season, Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. "He still thinks he can play," says Phillies manager Charlie Manuel. "He misses the game. Baseball is his identity. That’s all he’s done for 20-some years or so. He's kind of having a hard time adjusting."
- Before a strong start today against Reno, top Mets prospect Zack Wheeler was struggling to adjust at Triple-A Las Vegas, John Harper of the New York Daily News writes. Mets fans are waiting for Wheeler to join the big-league rotation. "Obviously I want to be up there, but you can’t think about it because it will distract you, take your mind off what you’re trying to do down here," Wheeler says. Wheeler currently has a 4.80 ERA. Las Vegas is one of the toughest places to pitch in the minor leagues, however, and the fact that he's allowed a few too many runs there might not mean Wheeler isn't ready for the Majors, especially with 10.8 K/9 so far this year.
For the fourth straight year, Twins assistant general manager Rob Antony sat down with Jesse Lund of SB Nation's Twinkie Town to discuss the state of affairs with his team. Antony and Lund discussed the Twins' offseason at length, ranging from the trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere to the Twins' pursuit of starting pitching. Here's a look at some of the highlights, but bear in mind that entire piece is well worth your time...
- The Twins never intended to trade both Revere and Span, but the Phillies' offer of Trevor May and Vance Worley was too strong not to pull the trigger. Antony identifies May as someone who could get a September call-up in 2013 if he enjoys a strong season.
- The Twins had conversations with both Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano, but were unable to agree to terms with either one. In particular, the Twins sought a club option for Baker, who wanted strictly a one-year deal. Antony said they didn't want 2013 to "be a donation" to Baker in the event that he wasn't healthy and effective for most of the season. That decision looks wise, with Baker on the 60-day disabled list for the Cubs.
- Mike Pelfrey identified the Twins as a team he wanted to pitch for and was aggressive in working out a deal, according to Antony. The Twins did quite a bit of homework on Pelfrey's recovery from Tommy John surgery in order to ascertain that the right-hander would indeed be ready for Opening Day, as he promised.
- The Twins made several "competitive offers" to free agent starting pitchers, in some cases making better offers than the ones those pitchers ultimately took. The Twins had conversations with nearly every free agent starting pitcher and spoke with around 15 agents for pitchers at the Winter Meetings in December.
- Following the Span trade, most teams didn't believe that the team would also trade Revere. Antony says four teams were in the mix for Revere, but the Phillies were the most aggressive and ultimately landed him with the aforementioned offer.
- The Twins were willing to do a one-for-one swap of Span and Alex Meyer because they believe Meyer is a legitimate front-of-the-rotation candidate who can be a "dominant" strikeout pitcher.
- The decision to bring Aaron Hicks north as the team's Opening Day center fielder was a result of Hicks' strong play in Spring Training and his poise off the field. The Twins' front office was never overly concerned with delaying Hicks' free agency by a season: "If he's that good of a player we're going to do what we can to sign him long term and none of that's going to matter."
- Antony, GM Terry Ryan and the rest of the front office prefer to gradually expose their top prospects to the Major Leagues so as not to field a team of all rookies. Additionally, that line of thinking prevents mass arbitration and free agency issues: "If you can bring a couple guys, a couple rookies in each year, it helps infuse that and it helps to spread it out so that not everybody becomes arbitration eligible at the same time or free agents at the same time, all that stuff."
- The Twins "admire" the Royals' bullpen of power arms and would like to build a similar bullpen. The team prioritized power arms in the 2012 Draft, selecting a number of hard-throwing college relievers.
- Antony offered a definitive "No," when asked if the team had interest in Aaron Harang prior to his trade to the Mariners. The Twins feel they have a number of similar arms in the organization already.
- There's been no contact between the Twins and Jim Thome for "a couple of months," and the two were never on the same page. Minnesota had interest in Thome, but they were far apart in discussions.
- "It would be great if he could be a Twin for life," Antony said of Justin Morneau. "He's a guy who's meant a lot for this organization and we'd love it if he were to play his entire career here, but you just don't know how things are going to work out in the end."
- Antony feels that too much has been made of the decision not to extend Ron Gardenhire prior to this season. Many have speculated that Gardenhire is on the hot seat following a pair of 90-loss seasons, but Antony said it was intended to be an organization-wide message that they're looking to get better from top to bottom. He adds that he hopes Gardenhire is the Twins' manager for years to come, and that in three years people are surprised there was even a debate.
The latest notes from the AL Central...
- After training in Phoenix Jim Thome has returned home, Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN reports (Twitter link). While Thome still wants a Major League contract, the Twins would likely take him on a minor league deal in Wolfson’s view.
- Indians manager Terry Francona told Bob Nightengale of USA Today that he has renewed energy in Cleveland. Though Francona's tenure in Boston ended badly, he says he has new perspective on the game after his year as an ESPN analyst. Those around him agree. "He's really the dream manager everyone wants to play for," Jason Giambi said. Even Red Sox president Larry Lucchino acknowledged that Francona "was an important part of the success" of the Red Sox.
- The Royals offered Ivan Rodriguez a Major League contract before the 2012 season, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports (Twitter links). Rodriguez decided to retire instead of playing for Kansas City.
The Yankees, who are hunting for a corner infielder to replace the injured Mark Teixeira, have asked Derrek Lee if he would be interested in returning to baseball, David Waldstein of the New York Times reports. Waldstein reports that Lee did show interest, although no deal is in place. Lee last played in 2011 for the Orioles and Pirates, hitting .267/.325/.446. Here are more notes from the American League:
- Fewer scouts watched Rick Porcello's start on Sunday with the Tigers than the dozen or so who watched his last one, MLB.com's Jason Beck reports. Beck notes, however, that scouts generally don't watch the same players over and over in the spring. Porcello has been the subject of trade rumors for the past several weeks, and the Rangers have reportedly shown interest.
- Signing Jim Thome or Bobby Abreu might be options for the Red Sox as they attempt to replace the injured David Ortiz, Peter Abraham of the Boston Globe writes. Abraham suggests, however, that the Sox's in-house options, which include using Mauro Gomez, Ryan Lavarnway or J.C. Linares at DH or moving Mike Napoli or Jonny Gomes to DH in order to create a lineup spot for Lyle Overbay or Jackie Bradley Jr., might be more appealing. That makes sense, since it isn't yet certain that Ortiz's injured heels will cause him to miss more than a few weeks of the regular season.
MARCH 1st, 9:37am: There's mutual interest between the Twins and Thome, but not all Twins officials are on board with the idea, tweets Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN. The major sticking point in the talks is that Thome is seeking a big league deal.
FEBRUARY 25th, 5:03pm: Darren Wolfson of 1500 ESPN asked a Twins official about their reported interest in Thome and was asked, "Believe everything you read?" in return. Wolfson hypothesizes that manager Ron Gardenhire wants Thome to be brought in, but GM Terry Ryan isn't on board (Twitter link).
2:34pm: The Twins had a conversation with Jim Thome’s representatives about a month ago, La Velle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. Though the SFX client hasn’t been in recent contact with the Twins, there’s a chance the sides could resume discussions. Manager Ron Gardenhire has indicated he’d like some power off of the bench.
“I know we want a little more something off the bench instead of two utility guys and a backup catcher.'' Gardenhire said. “I’m going to have a better bench and have a little more weapons. So we’re going to do that. whatever that entails, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Thome, who played for the Twins in 2010-11, remains a free agent and continues to work out in preparation for the season. The 42-year-old hopes to continue playing, but told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports that he has been reluctant to accept a minor league deal. Thome played for the Phillies and Orioles in 2012, posting a .252/.344/.442 batting line with eight home runs in 186 plate appearances.
The switch-hitting Ryan Doumit now projects as the Twins' designated hitter. Thome could provide the Twins with an alternative to Doumit and a powerful left-handed bat for pinch hitting opportunities. He has not been linked to the Twins so far this offseason.
Jim Thome will eventually retire as one of the game’s most accomplished power hitters, but he doesn’t want to call it a career just yet. The 42-year-old free agent told Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports that he’s heading to Phoenix next week to continue his workouts. He’ll stay in shape to be sure he’s ready should an interested team call. However, after 22 seasons at the MLB level, Thome has been reluctant to accept a minor league deal.
“For me, what I’ve done in the game, I felt really strongly about that,” Thome told Rosenthal. “I still love the game. I want to keep playing. But I felt after 20-something years, that if I went back and played, I wanted to get an opportunity to make a club at the Major League level. To me, that was important. I feel I’m still a Major League player. I’m in great shape.”
Thome, an SFX client, doesn’t offer defensive value at this stage in his career; he’s strictly a designated hitter and pinch hitter. He played for the Phillies and Orioles in 2012, posting a .252/.344/.442 batting line with eight home runs in 186 plate appearances.
The Yankees and Orioles don’t appear to be fits for Thome based on recent reports. The Indians once had interest, but have since added a similar player in Jason Giambi. At this stage, no team stands out as an obvious candidate to offer Thome a guaranteed roster spot.
Here's the latest from around the majors...
- The Indians are no longer pursuing Jim Thome, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal (Twitter link) reports, as the team doesn't want to devote a roster spot to a full-time DH. Thome is "healthy, working out [and] open to other clubs," Rosenthal notes. Thome said in December that he was open to continuing his career in 2013.
- Scott Boras plans to open a sports fitness center for his clients in south Florida next year, FOX Sports' Ken Rosenthal reports, in part to prevent players from getting associated with doctors and clinics associated with PEDs. Boras says his clinic will “bring about a certain level of assurance that the players we represent are certainly given the best information and best professional training...We feel we can best avoid all of the outside resources that are attacking these young men and providing them with false information and less than licensed professional medical assistance.”
- The Angels twice chose to focus on their hitters ahead of their pitching rotation this winter, decisions that MLB.com's Alden Gonzalez feels will define their season, for better or worse.
- Angel Villalona will join the Giants' Spring Training camp after obtaining a work visa to come to the United States, Baseball America's Ben Badler reports. Villalona couldn't get a visa last year and was on MLB's restricted list in 2010-11 due to complications from being charged with murder in his native Dominican Republic in 2009, charges that were eventually dropped.
- While Scott Rolen can't contribute on the field as he could in his prime, his veteran leadership can still be a big boost to a contender, MLB.com's Mike Bauman writes. Rolen has toyed with retirement this winter but may be negotiating a return to the Reds.
The Indians are looking to add a hitter and could spend modestly to supplement their offense, Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com reports. The team is considering a reunion with several former Indians, including Jim Thome and Travis Hafner, Heyman reports. Though there’s been “a hint of buzz” about a reunion with Manny Ramirez, he’s not a consideration.
The Indians don't have an obvious internal DH option at this point, assuming Mark Reynolds plays first base. GM Chris Antonetti recently acknowledged that Hafner remains an option in Cleveland. Thome, 42, played for the Phillies and Orioles in 2012. He has said he's not retired and would consider playing because he still feels good physically.
Heyman identified former Indians such as Johnny Damon, Casey Kotchman and Grady Sizemore as other potential options for Antonetti. Free agents Aubrey Huff, Luke Scott, Carlos Lee, Jason Giambi and Juan Rivera are also available. Indians designated hitters ranked 11th in the American League with a .226/.317/.385 batting line in 2012.