After a few days of rumors linking Jim Thome to the Twins, the deal was finally completed today with the Twins and Thome agreeing on a 1-year, $1.5MM contract. Thome certainly isn't the slugger he once was, and he definitely won't be spending any time playing defense, but I really like this signing for the Twins. After watching the team sign washed up veterans for deals well above market value, the Thome signing brings hope to a front office that hadn't done much right in the last few years. At the price the Twins are paying, this was a no-brainer for the Twins.
If the Twins are going to go with their best lineup from opening day, Thome should DH every game against right-handed pitching. That would move Jason Kubel to left field, and would send Delmon Young to the bench. Kubel is a poor defensive outfielder, for sure, but he isn't any worse than Delmon Young and it could even be argued if given a larger sample size Kubel's defense may actually rate higher than Young's over a full season. While the difference defensively between Young and Kubel is minimal at best, the difference between Thome and Young against right-handed pitching is pretty staggering.
Last season, Thome absolutely raked against right handed pitching. He posted a .262/.383/.498 line against righties, which was good for an .881 OPS. Like I mentioned yesterday, Morneau's OPS was .878, which means Thome last season hit righties about as well as Morneau hit everyone. Young, on the other hand, was almost the polar opposite of Thome. He hit just .271/.301/.383 against righties, good for an OPS under .700. However, Young hit very well against left-handed pitching, putting together a slash line of .310/.321/.512, good for an OPS of .833.
If the Twins use Thome correctly, the offense could be much improved next season. Rather than getting subpar production out of left field and good production from the DH, if Gardy plays the right guys against the right pitchers, the Twins could get great production from both the DH spot and left field. I understand people think Delmon will play better if given the job everyday, but the fact is he's been given plenty of extended opportunities to show he's capable of breaking out, and up to this point he's been a major disappointment. It's time for the team to give Delmon the best chance to succeed, which at this point in his career is to use him as nothing more than a platoon player. By adding Thome for pennies on the dollar, the Twins now have a great option to platoon Young with, simply by moving Kubel to left field against righties.
I expect Young to start opening day no matter what, and be given plenty of at bats during April, but once he begins struggling like he has each of the last two seasons, Gardy will give many of Delmon's at bats to Thome. I do expect by the end of the year the Twins to realize what is there best lineup against right-handed pitching, and while statistics would make it fairly obvious at this point that Thome is a better bet, the Twins unwillingness to use statistical research could ultimately cost them two or three games in April. As we've learned over the last two seasons, the season can easily come down to one game. I'd rather not have to watch another game 163, but that's just me.
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