August 26, 2011
The Indians had claimed Thome off waivers on Wednesday from the Twins, who fell out of playoff contention, oh, back in April.
"There's no question it's a bittersweet deal," Twins GM Bill Smith said. "But there's also no question this is the right thing to do for Jim Thome."
If only the Twins were sending Thome to a team still in contention for the World Series.
Following a fantastic start under manager Manny Acta that put them seven games up in the division on May 23, the Tribe has played 17 games under .500, as Jayson Stark of ESPN noted. They're 63-64 overall and five games back of the Detroit Tigers in the loss column. With 35 games to go in the regular season, that's barely a playoff contender in a weak AL Central, much less World Series material.
If the Twins really wanted to do right by Thome, they would have released him and encouraged him to finagle his way onto a different former club of his: The Philadelphia Phillies. It would have been a bit devious, but Thome could have made it happen.
In the hours before Thome announced he would accept a trade, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports painted a scenario that would have made Thome a free agent.
The only way for Thome to get to the Phillies would be if the Twins pulled him off trade waivers and placed him on release waivers. Thome could then reject every team that claims him but the Phillies.
Such a ploy, however, would require Thome to forfeit the rest of his salary, about $500,000. It also would require the cooperation of the Twins, who would receive nothing in return for their popular slugger.
Rival clubs almost certainly would protest such a manipulation of the waiver process.
Let 'em protest. Rosenthal goes on to say that, by trying such an angle, Thome might have taken a hit to his gleaming reputation for being a swell guy — and he's probably right. But at this point in Thome's career, why shouldn't he try? If there's a loophole through which Thome can pick his own employer — one that stands a good chance of winning a championship — then he ought to do it. For him, winning is all that remains.
Thome does fill a dire need in Cleveland, where DH Travis Hafner(notes) might be out for the rest of the season with a foot injury. He'll play a lot there. Fans at Progressive Jake Field, who mostly have been cold to Thome since he left via free agency nine years ago, will get a chance to reconnect and get some positive closure with a prodigal son. He used to be quite popular there.
Sounds like a feel-good story, doesn't it? A kindly but aging slugger, who recently surpassed 600 home runs but still is chasing an elusive World Series ring, returns to his first team. One that's much closer to first place. One for which he still holds the career home run mark.
But they're not going to win. The Phillies, on the other hand, have the best record in the league.
Not only does Thome have a good history with the Phillies, but he's also a lifetime apprentice to manager Charlie Manuel. It's true Thome would have been just a pinch hitter for Philly (and he was terrible at pinch hitting for the Dodgers two years ago), but that's not the point. Winning is. The Phillies are going to the playoffs, and they have as good of a chance as anyone, probably better, to win the World Series.
The Twins could have traded Thome weeks ago, before the waivers interference — and they probably would have — but they wanted him to hit his 600th home run while wearing their uniform. You can't blame them. Also, by doing it this way, they'll at least get a warm body in a trade. If they're lucky, the player to be named will play in Minneapolis someday. A release is what it is: You get nothing but memories.
Even though he's out the door, the Twins will profit at least one more time because of Thome. They're having a promotion at Target Field on Friday night: The first 10,000 fans get a Jim Thome wind-up walker toy. I'm not even kidding. Will it look like this?:
Only kidding, Jim Jam. Best of luck in Cleveland. At least Indians fans can take solace in Philly not getting him again. And maybe the Indians will prove me wrong and win their first World Series since 1948.
Now that would be a feel-good story.