Blue Jays Release Frank Thomas

Dave · April 20, 2008 at 11:02 am · Filed Under Mariners 

The Jays released The Big Hurt today, rather than be on the hook for a $10 million vesting option in 2009. No other team was going to pick up that contract either, so just eating the deal outright was the Jays only real alternative, since Thomas had no interest in being a part time player. I wrote up a longer post on this over at fangraphs.

Should the M’s pursue Thomas? It’s an interesting question. He’s undeniably better than Jose Vidro, and he can still provide some offensive thump from time to time. The Mariners could use another power hitter, and getting Vidro out of the line-up on a regular basis means that his terrible option won’t vest for 2009 either. (Note – since Thomas was released, his contract will not carry over to his new team. The Blue Jays deal with him will be irrelevant to whatever the M’s would give him – no vesting option to worry about.)

However, I’m not sure Thomas is what the M’s really need. He’s a right-hander who hits over half his balls in play into the air, making him an awful fit for Safeco Field, even though he does have opposite field power. Replacing Vidro with Thomas makes the line-up even more RH heavy (leaving only Ichiro, Ibanez, and Wilkerson as LH hitters), and would prevent the team from considering acquiring an outfielder and shifting Ibanez to DH, which really should have happened two years ago.

Thomas wants to play and the M’s need a hitter or three, so it would make some sense, but I’m not sure he’s an ideal fit here. He’d make the team better, but perhaps not better enough for it to matter, and the opportunity cost of making an even more impactful move down the line is fairly high. I can see reasons for and against.

In the end, what it comes down to for me is this – if the team is completely unwilling to make Ibanez a DH in 2008, then they should make a play for Thomas – they won’t get a significantly better bat at the deadline to replace Vidro, and they get an extra few months of upgrade instead of waiting until the summer. But if the team is willing to consider improving the defense and getting a left-handed hitting outfielder, that would be a better move.


42 Responses to “Blue Jays Release Frank Thomas”

  1. lailaihei on April 20th, 2008 11:17 am

    Something tells me that it is very highly unlikely that the Mariners will actually do this. But even if he’s not an ideal fit, I think he makes the Mariners just that much more fun to watch… Since it would save us from the Vidro 2009 option, it isn’t like it would cost the Mariners that much more (if at all) to sign him.
    Thomas might not be a perfect fit, but it’s hard to find reasons not to sign him.

  2. F-Rod on April 20th, 2008 11:28 am

    Interesting situation here. It is tempting to bring in an upset player of Thomas’ stature. Just two years ago he was fairly dominant for the A’s. He might be mad enough that he will be able to play at a high level throughout the rest of the season.

    You could sign Thomas and keep Vidro as a p-hitter and occasional DH in Safeco. While Vidro is a pretty bad DH, I would like to have him on the bench so he could pinch hit for Wilkerson or others when the whole goal is to get a single (runners in scoring position 2 outs, or to avoid a strikeout with Sexson up and a guy on third).

    Vidro would become a very overpaid ph, but his option would not vest. I agree that a dynamic outfielder would be prefered, but this seams like an immediate upgrade.

  3. NorthofWrigleyField on April 20th, 2008 11:32 am

    I’ve been thinking this ever since I’ve heard of the situation yesterday… then I read a post (think it was here) querying why the A’s haven’t signed Barry Bonds yet… well, here’s your sign.

  4. eponymous coward on April 20th, 2008 11:34 am

    But if the team is willing to consider improving the defense and getting a left-handed hitting outfielder, that would be a better move.

    What, Brad Wilkerson’s not enough of a left-handed hitting outfielder? 😉

  5. AQ on April 20th, 2008 11:36 am

    While I’d like to see them make a move that puts Ibanez at DH and improves their OF defense, they’ve shown me no indication that they’re aware that OF defense is a priority or an issue.

    With that in mind (assuming that they are blissfully unaware of OF defense), I’d be onboard with them acquiring Thomas. Presumably, he could be had for cheap (since Toronto is still paying him) and it moves Vidro a pinch hitting role. While it does make it more RH-heavy in the lineup, I think that Thomas’ pure power mitigates that concern to a degree.

  6. msb on April 20th, 2008 11:36 am

    speaking of outfielders, Drayer just said that reports on Balentien are that ‘the xrays of his knee came back negative’– not a lot of info there, but more hopeful than ‘he was carted off the field’

  7. Jack Howland on April 20th, 2008 11:37 am

    It’s obvious that the Mariners have no intention of moving Ibanez out of left field in 2008.

    This comes down to a decision to pick up Thomas for basically free and replace him with Vidro which in the process saves us $6M+ in 2009 on Vidro’s bad contract. This decision couldn’t be more obvious in my opinion considering Thomas is available to us.

  8. AQ on April 20th, 2008 11:44 am

    This comes down to a decision to pick up Thomas for basically free and replace him with Vidro which in the process saves us $6M+ in 2009 on Vidro’s bad contract. This decision couldn’t be more obvious in my opinion considering Thomas is available to us.

    Exactly. It’s not like Vidro’s left-handedness is really that much of an asset to us on a lot of levels anyhow. It’s not like he’s really taking advantage of the shorter RF wall in Safeco when he’s jacking a whopping 6 HR per year and struggling to slug above .400.

  9. Dave on April 20th, 2008 11:48 am

    Opportunity Cost, Opportunity Cost, Opportunity Cost.

    This isn’t Thomas vs Vidro. You absolutely have to factor in the other potential moves that acquiring Thomas would prevent into the equation. Thomas’ power doesn’t mitigate the fact that he’s right-handed, and this is a team that can’t hit RHPs nearly as well as they need to. That’s a significant problem that Thomas wouldn’t alleviate.

    This isn’t a no-brainer. If you think it is, you’re missing parts of the puzzle.

  10. AQ on April 20th, 2008 11:52 am

    This isn’t Thomas vs Vidro. You absolutely have to factor in the other potential moves that acquiring Thomas would prevent into the equation.

    Good point and point well-taken, Dave. But, that argument is based on the fact that we’re assuming that the M’s would make moves that make more sense than this in lieu of Thomas. My point was that I’d rather see the M’s pick up a better defensive outfielder and move Ibanez to DH. But, in reality, I don’t see them doing that and I see them thinking that putting Thomas at DH and leaving Ibanez in LF is a better option. So, I was doing my best to embrace the idea of Thomas based on that framework.

  11. Dave on April 20th, 2008 11:57 am

    We can’t assume that the likelihood of the Mariners making a better move to improve the roster is 0%. It absolutely has to be higher than that. So, if you say that there’s maybe a 30% chance (unlikely but possible) that the team would make an appreciably better move, then the removal of that 30% chance is still a negative externality of signing Thomas.

  12. AQ on April 20th, 2008 12:01 pm

    But, since picking up Thomas would be almost a freebie acquisition, what would keep the M’s from picking up Thomas for now and hang onto him until a better solution comes along? (Assuming they can simply acquire him for the remainder of this year)

    I agree that there are definitely better options that could come to the forefront. I just wouldn’t want to see them miss out on option A waiting on the chance of option B. Especially when you might able to simply dump option A if option B becomes available later.

  13. Bodhizefa on April 20th, 2008 12:05 pm

    What left-handed outfielders do you guys think will be available by July? Dunn’s got awful defense and would only be with us for one season. Griffey’s going to cost Balentien (in all likelihood) and his defense isn’t so hot anymore either (although it’s obviously better than Ibanez’). Corey Patterson won’t help us hit right-handers either because he can’t hit ANYTHING. What other likely options are out there and what would they cost us? Cliff Floyd? Jim Edmonds? Luke Scott?

    I’m going to advocate the Thomas signing because we have no idea what options would be available to us down the line, and we also have no idea how much they would cost us. Personally, I don’t think we should be giving up much more of our minor league system since the O’s pillaged the crap out of it earlier this year. Sign Thomas and if a deal opens up down the line for a lefty outfield bat, think about it then. Improve the club now and perhaps improve it more later if the chance arises.

  14. DAMellen on April 20th, 2008 12:17 pm

    I hope they do pick up Thomas. I hate watching Vidro play and they can’t allow his option to be excercised. They can’t. Besides, I think the odds of Billy Bavasi making a good trade or even knowing what he should be trading for are low. I’d hate to see him deal Carlos Triunfel or Jeff Clement or Wladimir Balentien or Philipe Aumont or Juan Ramirez for a mediocre outfielder with no plate discipline that plays below average defense because he hit 20 homers four years ago and has a reputation as a solid defensive outfielder. Thomas has power and plate discipline. He costs us nothing and gets Vidro out of our lineup. I’d take him.

  15. SDRE on April 20th, 2008 12:21 pm

    I’ll take Thomas as an upgrade over Vidro. It’s interesting to see a team cut a player just to avoid a vesting option. Cutting Vidro probably not realistic cause he may have some use as a bench bat but really why not just promote Clement to DH and/or third catcher? Give Clement and Burke one day a week behind the dish and get a strong Johjima throughout the whole season. Clement’s bat also seems a better fit sandwiched between Beltre and Sexson.

  16. DAMellen on April 20th, 2008 12:57 pm

    Oh, but Barry would be better. I don’t see why the Mariners won’t pursue him. Power? All time homer leader. Plate discipline? All time walk leader. Plus he’s a lefty. So his defense blows. It’s a major flaw, but he has too many good points to dismiss. The Mariners have always been a team that’s been into things like “Sending a message to its players.” What could send a stronger message than being so eager to win that you’re willing to give pure evil a contract. Besides, it’s not like the Mariners haven’t signed evil before. We had Carl Everett a couple years ago. He was a nine in evil and a two in talent. Why not take on Bonds who’s a ten in both? And if they’re worried about adding unpopular guys, well Bill Bavasi has no buisness getting on people for being unpopular until he can get closed.

  17. Paul B on April 20th, 2008 1:08 pm

    My opinion is that the M’s need two outfielders (one to take over for Raul, and one to be an upgrade over Wilkerson, or to take over when he gets hurt).

    Since Thomas is not an outfielder, he doesn’t really solve the M’s problems. They already have 3 DH’s.

  18. SDRE on April 20th, 2008 1:22 pm

    M’s need another outfield to replace Wilkerson first. Wlad being the choice immediately (or when he’s back to full speed). Ibanez replacement will wait to the off-season (insert Griffey Junior debate here). Clement and Wlad need to be considered real soon. Like Now. There’s young players like Votto, Gordon, Upton, Upton, and Braun as real centerpieces to their teams presently. Clement and Wlad just might be the lightning this lineup needs. Seeing Vidro and Wilkerson/Bloomquist everyday is getting old real quick.

  19. terry on April 20th, 2008 1:29 pm

    Thomas really isn’t a move I’d bother making. He’s essentially lock in the defense with no real guarantee he’d make the offense better.

    I still hope you see.

  20. smb on April 20th, 2008 2:01 pm

    I just see no way the team gives up on Turbo and looks for his replacement, no matter how much sense it might make. I believe they truly think he is a pretty good DH. For God’s sake, the man is a Professional Hitter!

  21. Breadbaker on April 20th, 2008 2:30 pm

    18: The one reason I see for pursuing this is that Big Frank was looking pissed when the White Sox won the World Series without him and responded with an incredible season for basically free with Oakland in 2006. He’s pissed again at the Blue Jays, and might take that out on American League pitching right now. If he has anything left in the tank at all, that is. But for the major league minimum, and for taking away a lot of Vidro’s at-bats, I don’t see the downside. If it doesn’t work out, you can always release him, and if the only result was that Vidro’s option didn’t vest, you win either way.

  22. wannabe on April 20th, 2008 2:42 pm

    I agree with what AQ says in 12. Picking up the Big Hurt only three weeks into the season gives the M’s a couple of months to see if there is anything left in the tank. If he works out great. If not, there is still time to possibly upgrade LF and move Ibanez to DH. Dave, I don’t see that the 30% chance of a LF upgrade is removed by signing Thomas. Dimished perhaps, maybe to 15-20%. It only drops to 0% if Thomas performs, in which case we benefit in a different way.

  23. BigJared on April 20th, 2008 2:45 pm

    Thomas is indeed an upgrade over Vidro. 87 year old Julio Franco would most likely be an upgrade over Vidro. But I don’t think he’s really who we need mostly because he’s a righty and I can see Safeco not being kind to him.

    There is a patient, power hitting, walk drawing left handed bat that is on the market who is only slightly more of an ass than Big Frank has repeatedly demonstrated to be……………but…………….*sigh*

    I hate Lincoln and Armstrong so much. Corporate lawyers running a baseball team? Well, this is what that looks like boys and girls.

    I’m trying to think of the last regular, long term DH who even approached Fast Food Vidro’s feebility and I’m drawing a blank.

    But hey, he’s a Veteran and a Professional Hitter and that kind of logic is hard to argue with if your name is Destro errrr Bavasi.

  24. wannabe on April 20th, 2008 3:20 pm

    Okay, totally statistically irrevelant, but in case anyone is curious: Frank Thomas career splits at Safeco: 129ab, 5hr, 19rbi, .229avg, .341obp, .717ops. Incidentally, he was 1 for 20 back in 2000. Been pretty solid since. I know, I know, just for fun……but I wouldn’t put it past the Mariner’s brass to see the sample size as relevant!

  25. everett on April 20th, 2008 3:23 pm

    I’m all for picking up the Big Hurt, but then again, he’s my favorite player. If we believed the team was smart enough to properly value people, we wouldn’t be having this discussion, but maybe they’ll see him as an upgrade at the “professional hitter” position.

  26. KeyzirSoze123 on April 20th, 2008 4:02 pm

    Are there any players that might be up for grabs around the trade deadline this year that the M’s might consider pursuing who would be a better fit with this team than the Big Hurt? Thomas may not be a huge improvement to the team’s offense, but if we can get him right now, and we can get him while keeping our arms and legs, and if it’s just for this year, and we’re not making a play for any power lefty outfielders (of course there aren’t going to be answers to all those questions)… but all things considered, I see Thomas as worth it.

  27. Skiba on April 20th, 2008 4:16 pm

    Why is it that the M’s are so aggressive in pushing their prospects through the lower levels, but once they exhibit that they are ready for the highest level they are held back. It seems that Jeff Clement is a better option for this team right now than Vidro. Mixing in Clement at DH and catcher with Thomas playing four games a week would be a significant offensive upgrade.

    We went through the same thing for most of last season with AJ tearing up AAA. Obviously Dave is right that the real upgrade would be Ibanez to DH in which case there is no room for Clement. If the FO isnt willing to make that move then they should be willing to put the best available players into the pre determined roles they have defined for the team. Wlad, injury aside, probably isnt a significant upgrade this season but Clement is. This offense needs a shot in the arm, Thomas and Clement would offer that.

  28. KeyzirSoze123 on April 20th, 2008 4:32 pm

    27. It’s a nice idea, but realistically I don’t think Thomas would go for playing four games a week. There are going to be teams out there ready to offer him a starting job. The A’s are even more in need of power than we are right now, for example.

  29. cody on April 20th, 2008 5:48 pm

    Thomas also would not generate nearly as much negative press as someone like Barry Bonds.

  30. Eleven11 on April 20th, 2008 6:19 pm

    Problem. The M’s like Vidro as DH and see no reason to upgrade. They view him as a success.

  31. marinersintheblood on April 20th, 2008 7:57 pm

    If Frank Thomas is as pissed as he looks about being benched in Toronto, I don’t think he’s going to be much interested in signing with a team that’s not sure they want to play him all year. He’s likely to get a better offer elsewhere. Seattle’s not the only team who could use a HOF-bound DH.

    And I thought it was clear when they released Jose Guillen that the Mariners management were taking a stand against signing anyone even suspected of using steroids. Hence, no Barry. Makes sense to me.

  32. PaulMolitorCocktail on April 20th, 2008 9:19 pm
  33. Mr. Egaas on April 20th, 2008 9:38 pm

    Part of me says it’s time to get ballsy. Kick Norton to the curb and pick up Big Frank. At the very least, you can find a high leverage at bat for him to pinch hit once a game.

  34. BMW on April 20th, 2008 10:10 pm

    Absalutely the Ms should go after Frank, Toronto is on the hook for his salary, So Seattle could land him for the minimum salary, around 360,000 I think.. Remember this guy led Toronto in HR and RBi last year… Its worth a shot..

  35. SDRE on April 20th, 2008 10:59 pm

    21: One thing I like about Thomas is his ability to work the count and take a walk. He could help this lineup. He killed the ball when he played for Oakland at the Safe a few years back.
    One things the Angel series shined light on is that Hunter and Vlad are a nice combo that the M’s don’t have. While Thomas wouldn’t be a long-term solution (call up Clement and Wlad for that) His presence in the lineup would take some pressure off Sexson and Beltre. At best as you said, getting Thomas AB as a DH would limit the likely of a Vidro vesting.

  36. Clueless in Seattle on April 21st, 2008 1:41 am

    The M’s should JUMP on the chance to sign The BIG HURT faster than Ichiro can get down the 1st baseline for virtually pennies on the dollar. WHY??

    1. Vidro is a nice hitter for average. .301 Career hitter…Nice. Frank Thomas is a power hitter that strikes fear into a pitcher. Oh, .302 Career hitter by the way.

    2. I will now compair Vidro’s best stats at his prime age against Thomas at age 38-39. At age 26 (2000) Vidro had 24HR and 96RBI for his best. At the age of 38 Thomas hit 39 HR 114 for Oakland and at 39 he hit 36HR with 95RBI with a heel problem.

    3. What have you done for me lately??

    Vidro last 4 years: 34HR 198RBI in 1,732 At Bats, that’s 1 HR every 15 games played.

    Thomas last 4 years: 95HR 284RBI in 1,342 At Bats, that’s 1HR every 3-4 games played.

    IMPACT would be immediate.

    4. Our bench is a joke for AL and weak for NL. Burke, Norton (4th OF/1b), Bloomquist (IF/OF) and Cairo (IF/Pinch Runner??). Bloomquist and Cairo are the same player, with Cairo being an older version. I’m sure Cairo is a great guy, heck I like him…but we already have that guy in Bloomquist. It was a terrible blunder by Bavasi to sign him. Therefore, we NEED Thomas.

    4. Bench thoughts…. Cairo or a career .301 hitting switch hitter who will still put a little bit of pressure on Lopez to perform well in Jose Vidro?

    FINALLY, think of this lineup folks:

    1 Ichiro
    2 Lopez/Vidro
    3 Ibanez
    4 Thomas/[even after a couple of years of watching our starting first baseman I am unaware that his name is Sexson]whom ever is hotter
    5 [even after a couple of years of watching our starting first baseman I am unaware that his name is Sexson]/Thomas
    6 Beltre
    7 Wilkerson
    8 Johjima
    9 Betancourt

    WOW, what an improvement!!!!!!

  37. hub on April 21st, 2008 4:13 am

    Is there a way to gauge the number of projected offensive runs that Thomas is +/- over Vidro at DH? Regardless of Left/Right/Left/Right lineups, is he gonna make the offense score more often?

  38. Terminator X on April 21st, 2008 4:33 am

    Warning: this post is long, and kind of jumps all over the place and my train of thought isn’t always clear, so bear with me.

    For those who think the M’s should sign Thomas now and release him if something better comes along, or platoon him with Player X: Won’t happen. Thomas wants a full-time, starting job – he’s made that very clear. And he’s good enough to land one somewhere. He won’t take a platoon job. And as far as taking him until something better comes along and dropping him… that’s not the Bavasi way. Bavasi is historically VERY good to his players, possibly to a fault. He simply WON’T sign a guy who’s already upset about losing his job with the intend of releasing him again 2 months later. Not a realistic scenario.

    Basically, we’ve got to look at how much of an upgrade Thomas is over Vidro, and determine how many runs/wins that increases the M’s projections by. If what I stated above is pretty much true, and we assume that signing Thomas would more or less be this season’s patch to everything but RF, then we’re pretty much looking at that roster for the rest of the season. Here’s the #’s I come up with, using averages of all the projections on fangraphs and the guidelines laid out by Dave. None of this accounts for ballpark factors, which are currently mathematically beyond me.

    Thomas: .259/.366/.466, .368 wOBA, 2.73 VORP based on 700 PA
    Vidro: .287/.361/.386, .338 wOBA, .98 VORP based on 700 PA

    Take into account that 20 games have passed by and they’re each only likely to get ~500 more PA in, and those numbers shift to 1.95 and .70 VORP. Fudge the numbers a little to account for Thomas coming to Safeco and you get him at right around 1 win over Vidro from here on out, which is about what I expected.

    So then you have to look at what happens if we don’t sign Thomas, and wait a couple months to bring in a LF and move Ibanez to DH. Now we need to determine if getting this new LF and moving Ibanez to DH for the last 60 games of the season is worth more than that 1 extra win. I’m not terribly savy on the ins and outs of free agency and late season trades, but right now it looks like the options will be of the Griffey/Bradley/Patterson/Wily Mo Pena/Mench/Dunn varieties.

    So 80 more games of Vidro/Ibanez would cut Vidros PA’s down from 500 to ~300ish, making the rest of his win contribution .42 VORP. Using the same methodology as above, I get Ibanez at .276/.343/.446, .347 wOBA, and 1.08 wins above replacement level for 700 PA, with his -15 runs (IIRC) defensively factored in. Give him 300 PA as a LF and that cuts down to .46 VORP for his time in LF, and his ~225 PA for his time at DH would be worth .49 VORP. So now we’ve got .42+.46+.49=1.37. (Ibanez for the rest of the season in LF is worth about .77 VORP for reference)

    So, I’ll try to summarize this a bit here.
    Vidro+Ibanez for the rest of the season (no moves made)=.70+.77=1.47 VORP
    Thomas+Ibanez=1.80(fudging for Safeco)+.77=2.57 VORP for the rest of the season
    Vidro+Ibanez for ~80 games, and then Ibanez as DH=1.34 VORP

    If I’m doing this correctly, that means we’d have to find a LF who is worth around 1.1-1.4 VORP over ~60 games to approximately get to the 2.62 we reach with Thomas and Ibanez, depending upon Thomas’s actual production. Even going on the low end with 1.1 VORP over 60 games, that still means the M’s would need to find a LF with a full-season VORP of ~3 to just break even. I’m too burned out on all this to figure out the VORPs of Griffey or Mo Pena or Patterson or whoever, but I doubt there will be an OF available at the trade deadline good enough to make up for 80 games of Vidro instead of Thomas.

    And then there’s the other factors. Vidro gets dangerously close to vesting his option if the M’s wait for a trade, and prospects also have to be given up. Bring in Thomas now and it’s virtually guaranteed Vidro’s option doesn’t vest, and only money is lost – no more minor leaguers. And then there’s the chance that even if a 3-3.5 VORP LF is available another team trades for him, and there’s a chance that a player that good won’t even be available. And with Thomas/Ibanez locked into their roles, the M’s can still pursue trade options to replace Wilkerson – the prospect price to replace both COF spots in trades would be greater than any of us would want.

    Sorry for drawing it out so long, but if I did everything more or less correctly it looks like it makes the most sense to sign Thomas now than to wait and see what is available at the end of July.

  39. JerBear on April 21st, 2008 8:54 am

    McLaren on Ibanez recently:

    “His all-around game has been outstanding,” manager John McLaren said. “His defense, his throwing arm, the way he is running the bases. He has looked really, really good.”

    Sadly, there’s no way they’re gonna move him from LF. So go for Thomas, I say, though I don’t really expect it to happen.

  40. Xteve X on April 21st, 2008 9:00 am

    Having watched Big Frank in his final years with the White Sox he is pretty darn close to done. His mobility makes Vidro look like Rickey Henderson … I wouldn’t expect him to have anywhere near close to the season he had with the As, but knowing the Ms I’m sure that’s what they’d be expecting.

  41. alan smithee on April 21st, 2008 8:06 pm

    sighing big frank is an upgrade over Vidro but what isn’t? At this point his production isn’t any better than what Jeff Clement gives you and Clement can at least run out a grounder. and yea yea yea I know they want to develop Clement as a catcher. ill buy that for a dollar. they can call me when he doesn’t drop every fourth pitch.

  42. Clueless in Seattle on April 22nd, 2008 2:35 am

    If Frank is “done” after you’ve watched him Xteve-X I’d love to have him anyways.

    .277 26HR and 95RBI last year is “done?” How many Mariners put up those numbers last year???

    Oh ya, Guillen at 23HR 99RBI…but I was fine with Seattle passing on his 10-12 Million per year wages. At the time we thought we had Adam Jones, Clement and Wladdy on the way.

    I wish a few more M’s were “done” like you described Frank…

    And don’t forget our beloved Edgar…he wasn’t to mobile at the end of his career. Hence the DH position is born.

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