Big Hurt Feelings
Well colour me stunned. 10 days after being the toast of the town for hitting home runs on three consecutive nights and cashing 10 RBI in four days, the Jays have benched Frank Thomas “indefinitely”. So much for the “new attitude” and new training regime he had this spring.
The Big Hurt suspects this might have something to do with the 350 or so plate appearances he needs for his 10 million dollar option next year to cash in, and he might be on to something. There’s just no way Gibbons has the free reign over the club to initiate such a drastic move on his own. What sort of “baseball decision” is benching – not sitting, but benching – a hall of famer halfway into April instead of giving him a couple of days off to try and find his swing like they did last year? So you can replace him with the hot bat of Shannon Stewart?! (.235) Or get the left-field power bat of Joe Inglett into the lineup full-time??
Thomas openly admits that he needs somewhere around 200 at-bats to get comfortable. He not going to get any better if he doesn’t play full-time. If this lasts, it is essentially giving up on him. Why so soon? As in all things, follow the money. Because other than 10 million very obvious reasons to do that, at this stage of his career this is a typical April for Thomas:
And of course, he ended up as arguably the Jays best hitter at the end of the year with a very respectable .857 OPS.
There is also the possibility that Denbo has seen something really terribly wrong and told the team that that his steadily declining abilities have finally reached the point where they are not going to come back. It might be spin, but that is alluded to in Bastian’s article:
There are concerns within the organization that Thomas’ struggles aren’t simply part of another slow start, though. That’s one reason why Matt Stairs, who started at DH on Saturday, could potentially occupy Thomas’ spot in the lineup more often, though Gibbons wouldn’t say as much.
Recently, Thomas has noticeably altered his stance, crouching more at the plate to move into his hitting position earlier in his swing. That can be a sign of Thomas trying to find a way to start his swing faster to better catch up with pitches, though he downplayed any significance in the slight change.
No doubt that avoiding paying 10 million for a 41-year-old is a good idea- the option was only given because it seemed impossible that Thomas would be healthy for two seasons. It would also free up a spot for Adam Lind, who is currently hitting 360/411/640 in AAA, and has been mysteriously absent from the Chief’s lineup for the last two days.
But I’m not sure the Jays can even get away with it. Rest assured the players’ union has already filed a grievance that reads a lot like this post. You can’t just bench someone to get around incentives, and 60 AB isn’t much of an argument that it’s absolutely necessary for the sake of the team.
While we will no doubt hear that this is “sending a message” to the Jays to start hitting with “urgency”, there is no doubt in my mind that this will make the clubhouse situation worse and not better. Frank’s a big teddy bear when he’s happy, but as shown by his acrimonious departure from the White Sox, quickly turns into a snarling ogre when his pride is injured. This is a daring move by J.P. – but doesn’t it smack a little of desperation? Frank hasn’t been losing all these 1-run games…