After spending all of this time writing this, and whining about how I wanted a resolution to this, it’s now confirmed that he’s returning to Cleveland. I’m pulling the question mark out of the title, but leaving the story basically the same. Focus on the positive points of a Thome return, since it’s now reality!
So you’ve probably heard by now that the Indians, in fact, won the waiver claim on Jim Thome and are currently trying to work out a deal for him to return to Cleveland. I was hoping something would be settled by now, one way or the other, so I could write about my thoughts and see what others thought about it. The Internet has been out at my house since the ugly storms last night, and I think the local Starbucks would frown upon me sleeping here, in the hopes there was a resolution with this deal. (How dare the Indians – they should better adapt to my schedule!) Therefore, I’ll look at Thome’s history in Cleveland, as well as the pluses and minuses to a Thome return.
Everyone remembers the way that Thome left Cleveland. He was offered a big-money, multi-year contract with the Indians after the 2002 season (it’s rumored there were other perks involved – like the home run porch would be renamed the Thome Home Run Porch). Instead, he went to the Phillies with their $85 million, 6 year deal with an option for a seventh year. The Indians reportedly offered around $60 million over 5 years, with an incentive-laden option for a sixth year. Many people (myself included, to a certain extent) felt a bit betrayed by Thome’s willingness to bail on the Indians, his team since he was drafted in the 13th round in 1989. While a part of me was disappointed, it wasn’t necessarily surprised. He took the better deal, and he went to a team that looked like it would contend for a title sooner than the rebuilding Indians. (To be fair, that was true…even if Thome wasn’t there for their 2008 World Series win).
Not only was Thome the Indians’ all time leader in home runs, he was also a major force in the Cleveland community. He was involved in numerous charitable exploits during his time in Cleveland, and his close connection to the community is why I think it stung fans so badly when he left. In many ways, despite my disappointment, I was kind of glad the Indians didn’t fork over so much money for Thome. He had some back issues, and it seemed almost imprudent for a team supposedly low on cash to spend so much of its resources on one player. (Especially one that may end up as a DH in the near future, instead of a first baseman). I accepted his move to Philly, more than I had accepted Manny Ramirez’s departure to Boston two years prior. Thome only spent three seasons in Philadelphia before he was traded to the Chicago White Sox.
The positives of a Thome return to Cleveland:
- Let’s face it…the past week has been one of the worst all season for the Tribe. There’s not a lot of optimism floating around Cleveland at this point, and half of the roster is on the DL. I think a Thome trade would be a huge boost for the team and the fans; if nothing else, a distraction for the fact that the season has taken a turn for the worst.
- The Indians could use some power in the lineup, particularly with their struggles lately. Thome is the power bat the team has been lacking (especially with Travis Hafner on the DL).
- Thome may retire soon; it would be nice to see him return to Cleveland before he hangs up his batting gloves and calls it a career.
- He’s the Indians’ all-time home run leader, 334 of his 601 career home runs have come in a Tribe uniform. It would be nice to see him return after passing the 600 milestone.
The negatives of a Thome return to Cleveland:
- The season does look pretty bleak right now, and Thome would probably like to go somewhere with a legitimate chance of winning a ring. It sounds like the Twins don’t plan to stand in his way, and this decision will ultimately be Thome’s. (He has a no-trade clause)
- Despite Thome’s power, he’s never been one to hit for average. His on base percentage is respectable (.357) because he does draw quite a few walks. He strikes out quite a bit, this year it’s 67 in 202 at-bats. He struck out 185 times with the Indians in 2001, but he also had 526 at-bats that year.
- Thome hasn’t always been welcomed back with open arms in his returns to the city over the years. I imagine that will change dramatically if he comes back in an Indians uniform, however.
- With all of the problems the Indians have had lately, one Jim Thome isn’t likely to solve them.
Despite everything, I’d like to see this go through. While I don’t expect/hope for anything from the Indians at this point (I really haven’t all season – I expected them to be terrible this year) at the same time, I haven’t completely given up on them. Stranger things have certainly happened; I never thought they had a snowball’s chance on July 7 versus the Toronto Blue Jays, when they were down 4-0 going into the 9th. They’ve been coming back from nearly impossible situations all season, although this would be the greatest of them all. Plus look at the Detroit Tigers in 2009 – they had a 3 game lead on the Minnesota Twins with just 4 games left to play. Even though they spent 146 days in first that season, the Twins caught them and forced a one-game playoff (Although this article suggests that this year will be different for the Tigers). I love baseball, and I love the Indians, so I’ll be watching no matter what happens!