An imposing specimen in orange and black. A future Hall of Famer. A designated hitter with a career .402 on-base percentage. Sure, he’s 41 years old now, but even as late as last year in spacious Target Field he hit 12 home runs in 71 games. Jim Thome is now an Oriole. What does this mean? Maybe not much. He may be the latest “washed-up” player acquired by the Orioles (Derrek Lee, Sammy Sosa, Vlad Guerrero). Or he may be a spark both as a leader and a hitter that makes a mediocre to average team a not-so mediocre and not-so average team.
With the advent of the new wild-card playoff spot, the Orioles are still in the hunt to make the (gasp!) playoffs for the first time since Dylan Bundy was in pre-school. The hitting, especially runners in scoring position, was atrocious, and now the pitching is following suit. Adding Thome may help the former, and hopefully more moves in the future will help the latter.
What does a player like Thome bring to the Orioles? A positive leader. A player who has hit 609 home runs, with no added help from certain “enhancers” (at least that we know of). A likeable guy who is willing to help the younger players any way he can. A player who understands his role with a team and will not whine about playing time. And, to me the most important thing, a PATIENT hitter. Thome has always had a good batting eye. Even in the last few years, his on-base percentage is in the mid to high .360 range. Since 2010, when he was a youngin’ at 39, he has averaged one walk every 6.44 plate appearances. The only Oriole relatively close to this number is Mark Reynolds, at 6.87. None of the other starters are under 10. Adam Jones has 15 walks all season, in 329 plate appearances. Thome has 8 in 71 plate appearances. I understand that there’s not as much fear when Ryan Flaherty comes to the plate as there is with Thome, but it’s not just about the reputation with Thome. It’s about patience and ability.
Thome is a professional, both on and off the field. He will be a pleasant addition to this young Orioles team. If not anything else, he will add a veteran presence, experience, and positive attributes to the organization. And, if this team is able to make the playoffs, Thome can add even more experience, having played 67 playoff games in his career. (Not a good playoff average, but he does have 17 hrs and 37 rbi in those 67 playoff games).
Is Thome the answer to the O’s woes? Absolutely not. Does he add anything after this year? Probably not. But we can savor the time he is here and enjoy his presence no matter how he performs. Welcome, Jim Thome, to the city of Baltimore. Maybe, just maybe, the you can take the Orioles to the baseball Promised Land once again.