The Curious Case of Jim Thome

Posted: June 15, 2012 in Uncategorized

Jim Thome will always hold a special place in my heart. After a childhood filled with summers of 95 loss seasons, this mountain of a man came to Philadelphia in November, 2002. Armed with his titanic club and his blue oxen named Bess, Thome instantly transformed the Phillies from a group of overpaid, spoiled punks (a euphemism for his predecessor at 1B, Travis Lee) to a force to be reckoned with in the National League.

Thome’s stay in Philadelphia was shorter than expected. Injuries and the emergence of Ryan Howard forced Pat Gillick to ship Thome to the Chicago White Sox for Aaron Rowand, Daniel Haigwood, and Gio Gonzalez following the 2005 season. However, his power, leadership, and charm left a lasting impression on a city that is often difficult to please. Now, seven years after he played his last games in red pinstripes, Thome has returned to the City of Brotherly Love.

His first few months in Philadelphia were unceremonious. At this point in his career, prolonged position play is out of the question. The team attempted to play the future Hall-of-Famer at first base in April. This plan, predictably, backfired. Thome was placed on the 15-day Disabled List and was more of an afterthought than an impact in the struggling Phillies lineup.

Now, the tides have turned. Big Jim, who was two for his first twenty at bats this season prior to inter-league play beginning, is hitting a spectacular .458 (11-24) in six games as the Phillies’ Designated Hitter. During this run, he’s walloped three HR and 13 RBI, raising his overall batting line to .295/.392/.545. That’s right, as of right now, Jim Thome is a superstar once again.

Of course, the “small sample size” police would arrest me right now if I didn’t make a point of the obvious. Six games is hardly anything to get overtly excited about. The question now, however, is what becomes of Thome once inter-league play ends after this week? The team seems hesitant about putting his aging body at first base. But, he has shown he struggles when coming in cold to pinch hit.

Do the Phillies decide to try Thome at first? This is a risky proposition. Not only will they be subjecting Thome to increased injury risk. But, their fielding will suffer in the process. After witnessing the team lose two-out-of-three to Baltimore due in large part to fielding woes, I doubt that Charlie Manuel will risk throwing Thome to the wolves.

Will they treat Thome like the stock market and sell high? It’s an interesting idea. With the extra Wild Card in place this season, more teams than ever are in contention for a playoff spot. There are undoubtedly a couple of American League teams who would like to improve their DH spot with a veteran presence like Thome. The Phillies would not be able to get much in return, but when the bullpen is as bad as it is now, any arm or combination of arms in return would be better than a bench player.

Or, will Thome continue to languish on the bench whilst bringing leadership and perhaps a Matt Stairs’esque quality to the Phillies? Judging from his first few months of the season, this does not seem like it’s the most fair option to Mr. Thome. But, he chose to sign here knowing that this was a possible role for him. If the Phillies cannot get the offer they’d prefer in a trade, I believe that this is the best route for the team to take. A veteran, playoff proven performer would be a better option off the bench than, say, Laynce Nix or Domonic Brown; whose only proven talent as ballplayers is the ability to incite interminable hair-pulling by Philadelphia fans every time they step up to the dish.

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