Jim Thome and his wife Andrea drove to Philadelphia late Friday night and the feelings of déjà vu overwhelmed them. Eight years and 11 months ago, Thome arrived as the highest-paid player in Phillies history. Now, he was here because the Phillies were the first team to call him.
And if this is how his Hall of Fame career ends, Thome feels quite right about it.
"I’m excited to be here," Thome said Saturday at Citizens Bank Park. "It’s kind of surreal, to be honest, to be sitting here with the team they have and what they’ve done in the National League and in baseball. It’s been fun to watch them from the other side and now it’s even better to sit here and be a part of it."
Thome, 41, signed a one-year deal with the Phillies that, according to a baseball source, is worth $1.25 million. He has never spent more than two months as a bench player, but without the benefit of the designated hitter, that is what the Phillies will ask of him.
It will require an adjustment, but Thome believes he can make such a change given such notice. Thome said he will develop a conditioning plan with head athletic trainer Scott Sheridan and likely arrive early for spring training.
A little first base is not out of the question, but Thome has not played an inning in the field since 2007 and just 28 total innings in the last five seasons. If he does play first base, it could be once a week at most.
"I looked in the mirror and said, 'OK, I haven’t played first base, but also I like the challenge of preparing over the winter to get ready for it,'" Thome said. "In the past, whether through a trade or whatever, during the season I think it’s a little bit different than getting an opportunity to prepare all winter for it. It’ll be a great challenge. It’ll be fun. We’ll see what happens."
Thome effectively replaces Ross Gload as Charlie Manuel's top lefthanded bat off the bench. Gload made $1.6 million in 2011 and is a free agent. He was hampered by hip problems all season, but still played 85 innings in the field to help keep his bat sharp. Matt Stairs was primarily a pinch-hitter in 2009, but even he logged 94 innings in the field.
That will be the challenge for Thome and the Phillies -- how to maintain his bat as a weapon with limited chances for playing time. (One advantage in his favor: Thome will be able to spend nine straight June games as an everyday player, thanks to the schedule makers. The Phillies play all of their Interleague games in American League parks in one road trip, meaning Thome can DH.)
In time, they will discover if the plan works. But for now, it's a low-risk signing of a popular player who has 604 home runs to his name.
"It was an easy decision," Thome said.
Read Sunday's Inquirer for more.
Have a question? Send it to Matt Gelb's Mailbag.