April 20, 2008

Bye Bye Big Hurt

This just in from the Holy Shit Department: Frank Thomas has been released. After benching him yesterday afternoon, the Jays handed The Big Hurt is walking papers this morning. Colour me surprised. And perplexed.

I was going to write about Thomas' benching last night. I even had a title - "Trouble Brewin" - ready to go, in honour of the cancer that Frank was about to become in the Toronto clubhouse. It didn't happen and I woke up this morning, headed over to TSN.ca, and there it was. I guess the Jays had to act fast in order to keep the infection known as the Frank the Tank from spreading.

Thomas' release is all about $$$$$. When he signed his two-year, $18 million deal with Toronto in 2006, it included a $10 million option for 2009 based on plate appearances. Frank was healthy last season and healthy so far this season, and was inching ever so slowly to locking up that $10 million. Heading into game one of the season, he needed only 376 appearances in the batters box to do so.

The Jays will argue that the release is about production, not dollars. They have a point, although I'm not sure it's enough to convince me. Thomas is a notoriously slow starter. He was atrocious last year in April and May, and was up to his same old tricks to start this season. In 16 games, and 60 at-bats, Thomas was batting .167 with three home runs and 11 runs batted in. Eight of those ribbies came in the home-opening series against the Red Sox, when the Jays swept Boston out of town, large in part to Thomas. Other than that series, he's been a non-factor.

Thomas will be 40 years old on May 27. There have been rumours about his decline being permanent and age-induced. His bat speed has simply slowed down, and it's not coming back.

Thomas was livid after yesterday's benching. I can't really blame him.

"They told me that I'm not playing. Gibby told me that he can't guarantee that I'll be in the lineup."

"They do that after 16 games, after 60 at-bats. That's bullshit. We all know what's behind this. What else could be behind this but the money?"

"What the fuck is that, with my track record, they know what I can do. I tried to be the nice guy, the gentleman. I've kept my mouth shut."

"But I know I can hit. One good week and I'd be back on top. I know I haven't hit the ball that well but I'm not the only fucking player. Look at (Gary) Sheffield with Detroit, (David) Ortiz with Boston. I know I can hit, that I can get on fire."

"But I didn't expect this at all. This is a shocker. It's terrible. Don't tell me I can't help this team win. If they don't want me here, then why not just cut me and then they wouldn't have to worry about the $10 million next year?"

Clearly Thomas was pissed. And clearly Thomas can predict the future. His tenure in a Jays jersey is over.

This is a tough one for me to swallow. I think Thomas makes a good point about Sheffield, Ortiz and Jim Thome. He's certainly not the only designated hitter stinking up the joint. I thought Hurt was going to be a big part of a Blue Jays playoff push this season. Not anymore. It looks like Matt Stairs, who is batting a very tidy .333, will take over the DH duties, along with Rod Barajas. And it's assumed that Adam Lind will get the call from Syracuse. Lind has been ripping it up in AAA but if he comes back up to the big club and swings at everything, I'm going to be pissed.

I'm sure this was a tough decision for the Jays brass. At least I hope it was. Tough decisions are easy to look back on. Like, say, picking Shannon Stewart over Reed Johnson. Stewart's batting .235 with only one extra base hit and four runs batted in. Johnson, on the other hand, is enjoying his new surroundings in Chicago, batting .349 with seven runs batted in. At the end of the season if the Jays haven't received 20-plus home runs and 90 RsBI from the DH position, I think this move will have been a mistake. It's cut and dry for me.

There is definitely a sense of urgency when it comes to the 2008 Blue Jays, another reason why Thomas is a goner. They couldn't afford to wait for him to heat up, and that's why he's no longer part of the team. With a record of 9-9 after 18 games, the Jays know they can't fall too far behind in the standings. The Red Sox are already beginning to heat up, 8-and-2 in their last 10, and in first place in the AL East with a 12-7 record.

As you can see, I'm conflicted about Thomas' release. I understand why it was done, but don't agree with it 100% either. What if Scott Rolen gets injured again? What if Stairs can't keep up his pace? What if Lind can't get the job done? These are the questions that haunt me. At the end of the day, the Jays chose to eliminate 26 home runs and 97 runs batted in from their lineup.

And I'm not sure I agree with how they went about it, either. Thomas is a sure-fire Hall of Famer, after all. Does that entitle him to more respect than another player? I'm not sure. That's a tough one. But Thomas is among elite company. He's one of only four players in baseball history to hit for an average of at least .300, swat 500 home runs, score 1,500 RsBI, 1,000 runs, and tally 1,500 walks. The other three? Mel Ott, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams. Elite company, indeed.

No doubt Thomas is going to have a lot to say about his release. And it isn't going to be pretty. It should be interesting to see how it all shakes down today and in the coming days. It's a shame it had to come to this. But I wish him well. Thank you, Frank Thomas. Good luck to you, mate.


Anonymous said...

Lets go Get Barry Bonds....


Anonymous said...

How do you feel about The Big Hurt being picked up by the Oakland Athletics?

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