Monday, April 21, 2008

Further Examining the Frank Thomas Situation

by Scott Weber

Since the release of Frank Thomas, the league has been buzzing about where the aging future HOF’er will end up. Texas? Tampa Bay? Seattle? With Seattle once seen (still?) as the main suitor for Barry Bonds in the DH spot, Frank Thomas seems to be the next logical step. He’s been a solid character his entire career (minus a few front office scuffles), he is one of the few sluggers to make it out of the steroid era unscathed and un-accused, and now he’s available. Seems like a slam dunk, right? Wrong.

Thomas was an elite player. Now, he is a serviceable one, but no longer has the impact on a lineup he once had. Truly, he remains one of the most iconic baseball players in this era, but he comes with a large amount of question marks. His constant battles with the front office in Toronto are well-documented, eventually ending in his outright release instead of a demotion to the bench, or platoon. That has to be something Bavasi and Armstrong are wary of, despite his history. If they were aiming to avoid any media problems with Barry Bonds, Thomas’s abrupt exit must be a bit disconcerting to the front office. But all character issues aside, let’s take a look at the impact Frank Thomas would have on the 2008 Mariners.

Frank Thomas brings several assets to the Mariner lineup – mainly pure power, and patience. Thomas has a career OBP of .420, a whopping .118 higher than his career B.A. of .302. Even in recent healthy years with reduced skills, Thomas has managed to keep his OBP a full 100 points higher than his average. This year, despite slumping and only hitting .167 in 60 AB (settle down, sample size), he managed to smash 3 homers and keep his OBP a Jose Lopez-ish .306. Not good, not what you want from Thomas, but if that’s how often he’s getting on base even in a slump this bad – that’s acceptable.

Thomas is a clear upgrade over Jose Vidro. Vidro can’t field, neither can Thomas anymore. Vidro has no power, Thomas can still bash. Vidro has mediocre plate patience, Thomas’s is quite good. Vidro’s batting average will be higher, but at what cost? If Vidro reaches his plate appearances option, it’s bad news for the Mariners in 2009, who need to dump Vidro’s salary and roster spot. Yet another incentive to ink Thomas to a one year deal.

Signing Frank Thomas would be a low-risk, high-reward move. I’d be in favor of the Mariners signing Frank Thomas to a 1 year deal with an option for a 2nd year, leaving open the chance of him returning if he does live up to his 2006 Oakland form of .270/.381/39/114. Even if he reaches last year’s production, this lineup improves considerably with him over Vidro. Thomas brings excitement to the Mariners, a hall of famer with a huge intimidation factor to the lineup, something the team sorely needs. I don’t care how old you are, the name Frank Thomas still means something when you come to the plate, and having Thomas’s ability to get on base and bring people home means a hell of a lot more than Jose Vidro’s ability to slap singles up the middle and ground into fielder’s choices.

Bringing Thomas to Seattle would also allow the Mariners the luxury of keeping Jeff Clement in AAA, as Jon touched on in his initial post. The Mariners need Clement to develop into another power bat and reliable glove to play every day (and DH when he’s not, a la Joe Mauer) – and they need him at catcher (I want Johjima gone, another topic for another day). This clears first base/DH for Raul Ibanez, left field for whoever steps up *insert Al Martin joke here*, Wlad in right, and Ichiro in center in 2009. I don’t know about you, but I like our chances better in 2009 if Frank Thomas is a Mariner in 2008, regardless if he remains one in 2009 or not.


Anonymous said...

I'm still on the fence about him, but I know that I wouldn't like the option year (which may be required to get him). If there is an option, make it a team option rather than performanced based. We don't need to be in the same situation Toronto was in (or that we're in now with Vidro).

drivindave said...

Wow with Clement hitting 400 down in AAA sure is tempting not to bring him up.The big hurt would for sure be an upgrade over Turbo,we are getting NOTHING from our DH and RF and somethings got to be done about it pretty soon.

Matt Day said...

Good analysis, especially about how Thomas would just be an '08 option (that future lineup you detailed just makes me giggle with joy...Clement as our Joe Mauer, Raul at first, Balentien in the outfield). I'm worried though that Thomas at his age may be out of gas (though it would be nice to have a Vidro option for pinch hitting situations). If Vidro can come even within shouting distance of his average last year, I think he might be a better bet than a Frank Thomas hitting a few homers and flirting with Mendoza Line-like numbers.

Scott Weber said...

I'd be surprised if Frank doesn't hit .260 this year. He's off to a slow start but there's nothing to indicate he would drop that low.

Brian said...

I think that Thomas would be a great acquisition for us. He'd give us a fourth legitimate HR threat in the lineup besides Sexson, Beltre and Ibanez. I don't see Thomas hitting under .260 either. A lineup of Ichiro, Lopez, Ibanez, Beltre, Thomas, Sexson, Wilkerson, Johjima and Betancourt looks pretty damn good to me. It makes it pretty hard to pitch around anyone in the lineup who might get hot (and if Sexson stays hot I'd move him up in the lineup).

Dustin Shires said...

Sadly Safeco has proven to suck for right-handed power hitters. And to the person who mentioned the 09 option, which may be required for us to sign him, I'd say no simply because of that, along with Safeco and its' ability to rape right handed power (Beltre, Sexson...)