There are a lot of people ready to dump Jim Thome. Not too long ago, the
down-home, folksy lumberjack sort of a guy was the talk of the town. Fans simply
loved him and couldn't get enough of him. Now, the internet, radio, newspapers
and sports bars are filled with talk of wanting to dump Thome anyway, anyhow.
Let's face it, Thome's season was a disaster. He was barely ever a
contributing factor to the club and was simply a negative part of their offense.
The Phillies would have been better off had Thome missed the entire season and
had Ryan Howard in the lineup from opening day on. Thome hit just 7 homeruns and
finished with a .207 average. He struck out 59 times in 59 games. Crunch the
numbers however you want, but Thome was awful.
The real issue though is whether we believe that Thome is done or that it was
an anomaly. Were his numbers the beginning of the end or simply the result of a
player who faced a long line of injuries and simply shouldn't have tried to play
through them. This was one season, folks. It was Pat Burrell in 2003 (although
Burrell still hit 21 homeruns that season). It was Mike Schmidt in 1978
(21-78-.251). It was Lenny Dykstra in 1989 (4-19-.222). All of these players hit
the bottom of their careers only to bounce back and return to the type of
numbers that we all expected from them. There is no reason to believe that Jim
Thome can't and won't do the same thing. If nothing else, the guy is dedicated.
You have to know that he was more upset with his season than any of us were.
That's how Jim Thome is. He prides himself on being able to help his ball club.
Whether he was toiling on struggling teams in Cleveland or trying to take the
Phillies to the post-season, Thome demands the best from himself.
Let's not take anything away from Ryan Howard. The guy is a monster. Thank
God that the Phillies didn't trade him or we could be talking about how the
Phillies needed a sweep of the Nationals on the season's final weekend just to
catch the Nats in the standings and not to catch the Astros for a playoff spot.
Howard is the real deal and is part of a young group of players that should
bring good things to the Phillies down the road. Before we start trading
everybody and dumping everybody, let's take a look at other solutions.
The Phillies tried a year ago to teach Ryan Howard to play the outfield. It
didn't work. Then again, there were reports that Howard was starting to come
around at least a little. The experiment ended abruptly and perhaps, too soon.
Let's run the experiment again. Only this time, let's work even harder at it.
Let's bring in Garry Maddox or Bake McBride or anybody else that we believe can
help Howard to learn the outfield. And, let's not just have him learn left
field, let's bring right field into the mix, too. Teach him the nuances, teach
him the techniques, work with him on the field, work with him in front of a
video of other outfielders to show him how to move and what the proper
techniques are. Hit fly balls to him from dusk to dawn and be sure that
everything possible is being done to teach him how to play the outfield.
Then, next season, you can have Howard to spell Jim Thome, Pat Burrell and
Bobby Abreu. That means at least three starts a week for the young power-hitter.
After all, he still struggles some against lefties, so if you can pick and
choose his spots, all the better. Heck, Abreu could even swing over to center
and Howard could play right on occasion. There are any number of things that you
can do to get him at bats. And, when he's not in the starting lineup, what's so
wrong about having him come off the bench? If Jim Thome has officially
worn down, then there will be more opportunities for Howard to get at bats. If
not, then the Phillies have an insurance policy and a player who can step in and
spell Thome, giving him more time off and helping to assure that he stays
If Jim Thome's career is over, he's not the kind of player who will
hang on for every piece of glory. He's not Steve Carlton, who will drift
desperately from team to team, looking for one final hurrah. Thome is much more
the Mike Schmidt sort of player who will simply announce to the world that it's
over and he's moving on. In that scenario, the Phillies are off the hook for
Thome's contract. Keep in mind too, that Thome won't be easy to trade. It's
possible to work around his no-trade clause and find a place that he'd agree to
play - Cleveland and Chicago come to mind - but then there is the issue of what
you get in return and how much of Thome's contract you're going to have to pay.
We're being rash. We're rushing to judgment. All that happened this season
was that Thome's streak of nine straight seasons with 30 or more homeruns came
to an end. This is likely a bump in the road and not a sinkhole. Let's not throw
away a career full of awesome numbers for one season filled with horribly
disappointing numbers. Instead, let's remember what kind of player Jim Thome is
and hope that he can return to that form. We won't get equal value in a deal and
could wind up paying a bunch of money while Thome hits homeruns elsewhere. Think
of how the Colorado Rockies felt paying Mike Hampton's salary while he was
pitching for Atlanta. Hampton broke down this season, but the Braves got
two-and-a-half seasons out of Hampton with other clubs footing the bill. Over
that time, Hampton went a combined 32-20 with a 3.96 ERA. Not bad for a guy the
Braves didn't have to pay.
The bottom line is that there could very well be other options for the
Phillies. Other ways to have Howard and Thome co-exist on this club while
Thome's situation plays itself out. The two have been nothing but complimentary
to each other and in fact, Thome served as somewhat of a mentor for Howard when
the big guy first arrived in the majors. These things have a way of working
themselves out and perhaps the best thing to do is nothing.
Columnist's note: Please direct any questions, comments and
suggestions to Chuck Hixson at Phillies1964@att.net.
Reader's thoughts are always welcome.