Mailbag: Frank Thomas edition
There were so many questions in the mailbag surrounding the release of Frank Thomas that we could not wait until Wednesday to answer them.
The regular Wednesday mailbag will be featured, but consider this a Big Hurt bonus bag. Some great questions.
Q. Hi Richard,
What are your thoughts on the release of Frank Thomas? If it’s about his $10 million option in ’09, then why the heck did they give it to him in the first place? Did they hope he would be injured enough in the first two seasons that he couldn’t reach 1,000 plate appearances? If so, why give him $9 million a year in ’07-’08? It seems like the wrong way to hedge a bet.
Ryan McCallen, Toronto
A. One of the ways that J.P. Ricciardi has always seemed to sweeten his free agent offers through the years to combat the disadvantage of luring players to Canada is by handing outrageous dollar figures on an option year, with no intention of ever picking it up (See Bengie Molina: ’06 contract of $3 million + $1.5 million bonus, plus an option year for $7.5 million which J.P. bought out for a half-million). Alex Rios has a $13.5 million club option in 2015. He may never see it. But the question is whether the method with the Big Hurt was a wrong way to hedge a bet. Consider that at the same time as the Jays gave Thomas his contract, they gave one to catcher Gregg Zaun with a vested option for ’09 that he had little or no chance of reaching (i.e. 270 games played in ’07-’08). They may have thought that with Thomas’s age and recent history of injuries that the $10 million for ’09 for 1,000 plate appearances in ’07-’08 was a safe bet. But when Hurt was healthy all year and came to bat 624 times in ’07, alarm bells were sounding. When he got off to as slow a start as the previous season but accompanied by others, it was a good time to cut him loose before he really approached his vesting numbers. He still needed 304 plate appearances when he was axed to leave. I don’t think that with artificial turf and with Frank’s history of bad feet that he would reach 1,000 plate appearances. You can’t disagree with the release, just some of the methods.
Q. My question is: Why did Ricciardi ever think Thomas was a good idea? He prevented Troy Glaus from getting his 20-30 games as DH last year and took up a spot that we could have used to help a young player get some at-bats. There seems to be no long-range plan in place for Ricciardi — just sign whoever and hope you get lucky. I feel that Shannon Stewart is as poor a signing as Thomas was.
Don Cattani, Thunder Bay
A. At the time of the signing on Nov. 17, 2006, three days into the free agency period of signing other team’s guys, there were a couple of questions that reflected in the writings at that time. Why Thomas? Who was J.P. bidding against? Are they going to win in ’07? The answers are tough to understand. We assume Thomas was signed because he is one of the top on-base percentage guys in history and because he resurrected his career with the beloved Oakland A’s. As for who else was bidding, Thomas on Opening Day in New York estimated that there were “five or 10 teams making offers.” We will find out by the speed at which Frank signs his next contract considering that the price is much lower, since his $8 million from the Jays is guaranteed. Oh, the Jays will save $390,000, the major-league minimum when he signs his next deal. The Shannon Stewart deal was so that they could release or trade Reed Johnson and creep back under the $100 million team payroll. Adam Lind is the only younger player ready to help and when they signed Thomas, they weren’t even sure if he would be ready in ’07 … which he was.
Q. Long time reader, first time asker. I completely agree with the decision to let Frank Thomas go, but a DH combination of Scutaro and Barajas is not going to get the Jays into the postseason. How long before Adam Lind gets a shot at being the everyday DH? Also, wouldn’t slotting Aaron Hill in the five-hole allow Wells to see some better pitches?
Matt Lewis, Ottawa
A. Good call on Scutaro and Barajas, but Scutaro was never in the DH plans, while Barajas is only there as a right-handed platoon until Adam Lind’s neck gets better. Apparently Lind slept on it wrong a few nights ago, probably getting whiplash from dreaming of playing left field with Josh Towers on the mound. In any case, once Lind arrives he will play left field with Matt Stairs as DH and Robinson Diaz or Joe Inglett being returned to the minors. Shannon Stewart can then play some left field and some DH, with Barajas returning to catching along with Zaun.
Q. Hello Richard, Goodbye Frank Thomas and hello Barry Bonds? It’s hard to see him fit into a Jays lineup, but his name has been popping up recently. If winning this year is the number one priority and management is on a short leash, would the Jays ever consider signing the ’roids king? Thanks for answering!
Dave Raiken, London, Ont.
A. Barry Bonds? You have got to be kidding. Just what we need, a huge barcalounger in the clubhouse in front of Barry’s locker, his own Plasma HD-TV, personal lackeys running around the clubhouse and IRS and DEA agents behind every pillar. Can he get a work permit for Canada if he is being investigated by a grand jury. Just what the Jays need. A guy that walks every time there are runners in scoring position, leaving it up to the other guys that have been failing with runners in scoring position. The Jays will not do that. They want to keep the payroll under $100 million. Besides, the Giants averaged 73 wins per year the last three seasons with a younger Bonds in their lineup.
Q. Hi Richard. I really hope you can answer this question and, as of April 20 I’m sure you’ve received a ton of question regarding Thomas and his replacement. Just to quote your article: "There is a bigger picture here for the Jays. ... This is a pivotal year. The Jays must compete for the wild card or GM J.P. Ricciardi and Gibbons will likely both be out of jobs." I’m hoping you have an inside scoop on this and I want to know if it’s that pivotal for the Jays as the organization states, Adam Lind should NOT be the solution in my opinion. Would they trade for a big bat? I was thinking J.D. Drew (a lefty and who’s being shopped around) perfect for the fifth spot.
Kam Hooshmand, Richmond Hill
A. J.D. Drew is not a big bat. He is not perfect for the fifth spot. This is a huge year for Ricciardi and therefore Gibbons. Consider that nobody has even thought of giving Gibbons an extension. Ricciardi believed in ’07 that he had a team that was good enough to compete. Then all the injuries. He saved his own job by convincing Ted Rogers and Co. to give him another chance to prove his point. The only tweaks he made were David Eckstein and Scott Rolen, both good moves. He has no excuses. This pitching staff should be good enough to carry them to 90-95 wins. If not, J.P. and Gibby will be looking for jobs. As for Lind, he is the man to play left for now. They have Matt Stairs for one more year after this and then Travis Snider will be in the mix. Signing somebody else’s overpaid stiff to a longterm deal is in nobody’s best interest except the stiff.
Q. As the Jays have released Frank Thomas it raises a question about DH expectations. In your experience, would an aging DH running a hitless streak start hitting again? More generally, do hitters run in cycles of hot and cold or should a team expect a minimum level of consistency from the DH, such as clutch hitting, despite a lower batting average? Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor had great seasons with the Blue Jays, but I can’t recall if they started cold and ended hot.
Frederick Duquette, Edmonton
A. DH expectations are one-dimensional. The only way you can help your team as a DH is by reaching base and driving in runs. If you are a centre fielder like Wells or a shortstop like Eckstein you can win games with your defence if you are in a slump. Your aging, slumping DH is out there basically butt-naked. Five chances per night to help and that’s it. Molitor in ’93 hit .292 in April and .374 in May. Winfield a year earlier hit .375 in April, .223 in May and .316 in June. No problem staying with either guy. Most good hitters in their prime will level out at similar numbers to what they have done their entire careers. It’s a consistent pattern over the years. But once the talent, the timing, the reflexes, the hand-eye start to go, it can be quick and alarming.
Q. Hi Richard, I personally don’t think the Jays are treating Thomas as a Hall-of-Famer should be treated. During the ’80s and early ’90s I was proud to be a Blue Jays fan. Not only because they put together competitive teams, but also because I thought they treated their players in a classy manner, especially during the days of (Paul) Beeston, but also during the Gord Ash era. The Ricciardi regime often makes me feel ashamed of the organization, though I remain a fan. What are your thoughts on this? Do I have a faulty memory? Thanks very much!
Rory Wilson, Halifax
A. There is no doubt that in the early days of the Jays, they treated their players like a family unit. They learned that what they had to do to compete from the Expos example under John McHale because of the disadvantage of playing in what many players considered a foreign land — which of course it technically is. Unfortunately much of the little detail work that the Jays did for their players back in the day the players don’t need any more because of the amount of money they are making and the fact of having mega-agents who assign case workers to hold their hands. J.P. is certainly not a people-person in the sense of Beeston or Ash, but as for Frank Thomas, he is a Hall-of-Famer but it’s not his fault that the Jays overpaid him. It is his fault for not understanding the reality that the $10 million vesting option for ’09 was a factor in his being yanked from the lineup, leading to his release.
Q. Richard, any chance the Jays bring Rolen up to DH until he can man 3B again? Martin L., Mississauga
A. It’s a catch-33. His true value to the Jays is as a hitter and a defender. He can hit in the majors, but until he can defend, he won’t be the player they need him to be. If he’s only hitting, when will they find out about his defence? Therefore, he needs to play in the minors until they see that his finger is not bothering him at bat or in the field. He’ll be back soon.