Not that I totally disagree with the idea of trading Jim Thome (since he’s extremely limited and some value can be obtained for him, maybe), but Ruben Amaro’s admission that he made to Jayson Stark yesterday, saying that the Phillies are trying to trade Thome to an AL team, is puzzling.
"The ideal situation right now, because he can't really play defense in the National League, would be for Jim to play in the American League," Amaro said. "He still has the ability to win a game for us and be productive off the bench. The problem is, the further away he gets from regular at-bats, the more difficult it becomes for him to do that. So we'll see what happens. We'll keep in contact with some clubs and see if there's the right fit out there for Jim and for the Phillies."
This is not a recent revelation. Before the season started, Thome admitted that he hadn’t traveled with a glove in five years. Amaro also said that Thome playing first base four to five times a month would be the ceiling for the 41-year-old (and that was a surprising upside the Phillies learned a month after they signed him!).
Now you know what you have in Thome: a guy who is limited in the field (read: unable to), but a legitimate home run threat off the bench. So why, then, would the Phillies want to trade him for the reasons Amaro ticked off? In the offseason, a productive bench guy who has the ability to win games was the most the Phillies could have expected from Thome, perhaps with a few first base starts mixed in.
It’s clear part of the motivation is to do right by Gentleman Jim, as noted by Matt Gelb: [Philly.com]
Not much is different. The Phillies would like to do Thome right by finding the best situation for a man with 609 homers and zero World Series rings.
The return for Thome will be limited. Perhaps the Phillies can have the acquiring team pay the remainder of his $1.25 million salary. Perhaps they could fetch, at best, a marginal prospect — emphasis on the word "marginal" and not "prospect."
Either way, this is about Thome, a man the Phillies respect immensely.
Stark, too, said that while Thome doesn’t have a no-trade clause, the Phillies will certainly do their best to accommodate him, should they be able to trade him. And again, that’s fine. But it's still puzzling. If the Phillies keep heading in the direction they are, then trading Thome so he has a chance to finish his career as an everyday part of a lineup and, perhaps, a champion is completely reasonable and respectable. But until the Phils are ready to throw in the towel (they're not, according to Amaro), there still remains a possibility of saving the season, and right now they may have one of the best pinch hitters in the league. Some of the best in that role rarely play the field, so why should Thome be any different? Pinch hitters, by their very nature, don’t get many at-bats. Amaro added Thome for depth, and with the anticipated return of Ryan Howard, the Phillies would have just that– depth (hitting, at least). Now they’re going to trade Thome as a sign of respect? I don’t get it.
Jason Weitzel is less pessimistic: [BeerLeaguer.com]
Unfortunately, the answer is to jettison a future Hall of Famer who was probably the best, true clean-up hitter this team has had all season. Right now, the Phils are hoping to get value back, but that will only get harder with every passing day. Contenders are also likely to be reluctant to trade ready help, for example, a capable middle reliever straight-up for Thome, who is hardly a guarantee to stay healthy through October. Thome and Howard cannot coexist as an ex first-baseman who can't take the field and one who will be eased back slowly. It handcuffs the lineup.
That all makes sense. But, at the end of the day, having a pinch hitter that you can legitimately count on is what the Phillies wanted out of Thome all along– a better Matt Stairs (HITS ONE INTO THE NIGHT!), if you will. There’s no telling what you will get from Howard this year, and having a useless-in-the-field-but-left-handed-power-threat on the bench isn’t a new concept for the Amaro and the Phils (see Stairs comma Matt and Gload comma Ross). Personally, I’d rather have the co-existence of Howard and Thome problem (hello, 2005) than The Big Tuna, Hector Fucking Luna problem.
My issue is less about trading Thome and more about the fact that Amaro fell flat on his face in the offseason: He let Raul Ibanez, Wilson Valdez (traded), Roy Oswalt and Brad Lidge walk (at least three of the four could help the Phillies right now). Signed Qualls (awful, DFA), Thome (soon to be traded), Laynce Nix (hurt), Ty Wigginton and Jonathan Papelbon (the only move that has worked out thus far).
For being the GM of a team coming off its best season ever and needing a few tweaks to stay at the top, injuries notwithstanding, Amaro failed miserably in rounding out the roster. His best move (not including Papelbon) probably was signing Thome, who is proving that he can still help immensely. But because he can’t play the field once every 10 days, now he's going to be traded? That’s silly.