Toronto Blue Jays, Now With Less Hurt

The Toronto Blue Jays released disgruntled designated hitter Frank Thomas this afternoon, several days after deciding that he wouldn’t be a regular in their line-up anymore. Thomas was unhappy with that decision and made sure the team knew about it, so they made the decision to part ways.

The initial reaction to this may be something of a surprise, since there are several MLB teams who Thomas would represent an upgrade at DH for. However, once you begin to look at his contract, the picture becomes a bit clearer. Thomas has a $10 million option for 2009 that vests if he receives 376 plate appearances this season (based on a 1,000 PA threshold over the ’07-’08 seasons combined). The Blue Jays, obviously, had no interest in paying him $10 million next year (no other club wants to either), so their options essentially included turning him into a part time player or releasing him. They tried the former and Thomas threw a fit, putting two and two together to realize that his benching was more about money and less about performance.

By releasing Thomas, they save themselves from having him on the hook next year, but also cost themselves a major league hitter in a season where they are trying to contend in the A.L. East. While Thomas got off to a slow slart, his overall skillset is essentially the same; his BB% and K%, and HR/FB% are all essentially the same, and four of his ten hits have gone for extra bases. Here are his patience, contact, and batted ball charts:

Frank Thomas BB%

Frank Thomas K%

Frank Thomas GB/FB/LD

He’s still a flyball, power hitting, right-hander with a good eye at the plate and good enough contact rates – the early results are based on a ridiculously low rate of getting balls in play to find holes.

Frank Thomas BABIP

Thomas’ speed makes him unlikely to post a BABIP of league average or higher, but his current rate is unsustainable. The ball will start finding holes, and Thomas’ production will rebound much closer to last year’s performance. The first several weeks of his season don’t give us any real reason to expect Thomas to continue to struggle like this.

It will be interesting to see who bids on his services as a free agent. Since he was released, the Blue Jays contract does not carry over to the new team that signs him, and the vesting option is no longer an issue. Teams like the Mariners, A’s, and Yankees should all be interested in his services, and it wouldn’t be that surprising to see a small bidding war break out for The Big Hurt. While the contract the Jays gave Thomas nullified his trade value, there will still be teams interested in adding that bat to their line-up.

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

newest oldest most voted
Tom Au
Tom Au

As I recall, the Oakland As made a major mistake in 2006 when they elected to sign Thomas for only one year at $500,000, rather than two years at $1 million per. With a WPA of 3.24 (that turned the As’ hitting into an asset instead of its usual liability status), he took them to the playoffs in 2006. In essence, the club could have had an option on the man in 2007 for an additional $1.5 million.

Clearly, he’s worth more than $1.5 million and less than $10 million. It will be interesting to see where he finally falls in.