Sunday, April 20, 2008

Jays: Adios to Frank the Tank

The Blue Jays released designated hitter Frank Thomas today, one day after he expressed disappointment at being benched. Jeff Blair has a great column up about how the real reason was due to Thomas' well-known contract, which would have automatically given him an extension for 2010 if he recorded 304 more plate appearances this year. Of course, J.P. Ricciardi, that paragon of truth, absolutely denied that the contract came into it.

"That never came up," Ricciardi told the Canadian Press with regards to the contract issue. "I told Frank our decision is based on performance and his decision is based on not being able to be in the lineup." Pull the other one, J.P., it hath bells on. It would make these decisions a lot easier for Jays' fans to accept if their general manager would tell us the truth once in a while instead of lies that blatantly insult the fanbase's intelligence.

I'm conflicted about this decision. From a financial point of view, it makes some sense, especially for next season: this allows the Jays to perhaps bring Adam Lind along sooner and also potentially creates an opening for Travis Snider, rather than blocking their path to the majors with a 41-year-old DH. It also lets them get Matt Stairs' bat in the lineup on a more regular basis without dealing with his slowness in the field. However, I think this might weaken the Jays this season. Sure, Thomas has struggled so far, but he's always been a poor hitter early in the season: last year, he hit just .250 in April and .193 in May before recovering late in the campaign to lead the team in both homers (26) and RBIs (95). Even in his great 2006 season with Oakland (.270/.381/.545, 140 OPS+, 39 HR, finished fourth in MVP voting), he hit .190 in April and .268 in May. That year also came after Kenny Williams and the White Sox got rid of him, invoking a "diminished skills" clause and bringing in Jim Thome to replace him, so he had plenty of motivation to get going early.

Thomas has just never been able to hit early: even in what was probably his best statistical season in 1994, when he won his second MVP in a row and hit a ridiculous .353/.487/.729 with a OPS+ of 211 and 38 HR in only 113 games, he batted .295 in April, his lowest average for any month in that year (except August, where he hit .211 in only 9 games before injury forced him out for the rest of the year). Thus, even though Blair raises doubt about his current batting mechanics, there's every chance he'll sign on with another team and have a typically strong second half. Next year is a bit more of a question, and is probably why the Jays made this move, but Thomas certainly has plenty of motivation now to prove he can still play. It may not have been wise to light a fire under him this way, especially if he winds up with a team that can challenge for the wild card and further reduce the Jays' post-season chances.

Leaving behind the logic and stats for a moment, I'm disappointed in this move from a purely emotional fan's perspective. Thomas has always been my favorite player, ever since I got Frank Thomas Big Hurt Baseball for Super Nintendo back in the day (by far the best baseball game I've ever played). My admiration for him has only grown over the years, and his signing with the Jays made it easy for me to switch my primary allegiance to them after I moved out this way. He's constantly been willing to speak his mind, even on controversial issues like steroids, and was the only active player to voluntarily talk with the Mitchell Report investigators. In this era of uncertainty, he's one player I can feel confident in admiring without having to worry about future revelations of steroid abuse. I hate to see a good guy treated this way due to financial concerns, especially when Ted Rogers is rolling in the dough. I also loved how he went out to Oakland and showed Williams and the White Sox up with his play. He got kicked around in Chicago, but he managed to prove his detractors wrong: I've got a feeling he may do the same here, which isn't good news for the Jays.

- Neate's take at Out of Left Field
- Bergkamp weighs in at Drunk Jays Fans
- White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen tells's Brittany Ghiroli what he thinks of the decision
- Some support for the move over at The Tao of Steib
- Joanna from Hum and Chuck is also disappointed over how this went down

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