Say No to Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas with the Blue JaysWith Carlos Delgado looking like he’s more ready for an oldtimer’s game than a big league contest, and Frank Thomas recently released by the Toronto Blue Jays, no doubt there are some people wondering if the Mets will consider picking up the “Big Hurt”.

While I have been a Frank Thomas since the late 1980s — I followed his (and Bo Jackson’s) college career at Auburn through the pages of Baseball America — signing him now, at this point in his career, makes little sense for the Mets, for several reasons.

First of all, Thomas was released because he was unhappy with his new role as a bench player. Throughout his career, Frank Thomas has been a star, and an everyday player. He still believes he can help a team in a regular role. That type of role is unavailable to him in a Mets uniform right now. Yes, Delgado is stinking up the joint and his bat speed can be clocked by a sun dial, but Omar Minaya and Willie Randolph will stick by him for at least a few more weeks before acknowledging that Carlos is washed up. If Thomas is unhappy riding the pine in Toronto, why would he agree to be a backup in New York?

Secondly, even if Thomas is amenable to being a bench player for the Mets, there’s no guarantee he’d flourish in such a role. He’s never come off the bench before, and the ability to do so is greatly underrated. It took several years for Marlon Anderson and Damion Easley to learn how to be at the ready and perform well in a limited role, and to expect Frank Thomas to suddenly turn into a viable pinch-hitter is asking too much.

Thirdly, Frank Thomas is a guy who — at this point — is a one-dimensional player: he hits mistakes over the fence, and doesn’t do much else. He can’t run the bases, he can’t field well, and doesn’t hit for the high average of yesteryear (actually, he sounds a heckuva lot like Delgado right now). He might take more pitches and draw a few more walks, but that doesn’t help much being a station-to-station baserunner. To be valuable to a team, Thomas has to get enough at-bats to keep his long swing in rhythm to take advantage of those mistakes. He won’t be the kind of guy who can play twice a week and hit 20 HRs in 300 ABs — he’ll need at least 500 at-bats to get the ball over the fence often enough to justify his existence. That likely won’t happen in a Mets uniform.

Oh, and the other reason he’s still able to hit mistakes is because he has nearly 20 years of experience batting — in the American League. He’s seen plenty of veteran pitchers many times over, and takes advantage of elephant-like memory to occasionally guess right on what pitch is coming next. By moving to the NL, he would face many pitchers for the first time, and not have the benefit of previous experience. It’s common for longtime veteran hitters to be stymied when switching leagues (i.e., Roberto Alomar).

Finally, do we even know if he can play the field any more? The last time he wore a first baseman’s glove was 2004, and that was before his nasty foot injury. He’s a gifted athlete, for sure, but hasn’t fielded a ground ball in four years, might be less mobile than Carlos Delgado (if that’s possible), and is over 40 years old.

Maybe, if we knew Frank Thomas could play the field adequately — at least as well (?) as Delgado does now — AND we knew he still had bat speed, he might be worth considering. But unfortunately, thinking of him as the Mets’ answer to their first base problem is akin to forcing a square peg into a round hole.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude April 22, 2008 at 12:03 pm
    Completely agree with not pursuing the Big Hurt. I think his future, if there is one, is in the AL, with a team looking for a DH due to injury or inconsistency. My guess is he’ll settle in with the Rays, who have Cliff Floyd on the DL for who knows how long and can let Johnny Gomes and Eric Hinske platoon in RF. We’ll see if my crystal ball is correct.

    In regards to the Mets 1B situation…
    Despite an average teetering near the interstate line, I think it’s WAY too early to give up on Delgado completely. For example, let’s say Willie hatches a plan to get Delgado going and decides to continue batting him 5th when Alou returns. No disrespect to Pagan or Church, but I think having Alou as protection would allow Delgado to see more fastballs over the plate, in which he can sit on and drive for extra base hits and RBI. This plan would also allow all the lefty bats to be split up throughout the lineup, as Church would bat 2nd, Delgado 5th, and Schneider 7th.
    However, I see what everyone sees, and that’s a slugger past his prime whose bat speed is diminished and whose ability to adjust is super slow. So it at least makes sense to be considering other options. I hope fans understand, though, that no team is going to be giving up the farm for the Mets old broken-down firstbaseman, so a trade for a replacement seems bleak. It pays to keep an eye on the waiver wire, but usually that consists of other team’s garbage – which might be good for a RP (Mota) or bench player (Marlon) from time to time – but likely not a starting 1B. So I think if the Mets are going to eventually replace Delgado, they’re either going to have to give up something of value in a trade, or look from within. I’d much prefer the latter, especially considering the plethora of 1B prospects within the Mets system. It’s too early in the season to say who in the minors is ready for the jump to the majors, but you have to like what you see in Mike Carp at AA Binghamton. The dude is hitting .449 over his first 69 ABs, with 5 HR, 17 RBI, and an outstanding OPS of 1.2. However, I’m cautiously optimistic, because Carp has never hit over .290 in any of 4 previous minor league seasons, and will only be turning 22 this coming June.

    I think the bottom line is Omar is going to ride Delgado until it is blatantly obvious he can no longer contribute adequately. And if he’s still batting close to .200 with just 5 HR come the all-star break, it’s pretty safe to say the Mets are going to have a new 1B for the stretch run. Whether it’s from outside the organization or from within is anybody’s guess, but in my opinion, Carp may deserve the first crack at the job.

  2. joe April 23, 2008 at 11:29 pm
    Good points, ‘dude. And I agree … the Mets will ride the Delgado horse until at least July … what choice do they have? The only possibility I see is turning Moises Alou into a first sacker, but he’s never played a game away from the outfield. We saw what happened with Piazza way back when …

    BTW, while I also agree that Carp would seemingly deserve first crack, I don’t see him getting it. More likely the Mets will bring up a crusty old vet like Fernando Tatis — it’s what they do. Carp will have to be hitting near .400 in early July to get shot, considering the way the Mets brass have treated their underlings in the recent past (i.e., Gotay, Milledge, Jacobs, etc.). No way Delgado is replaced in the lineup by a youth unless there is an injury.

  3. murph April 23, 2008 at 11:59 pm
    Nice analysis. Thomas is definitely not a good fit for the Mets.

    Looks like Delgado & Thomas are not the only slugging first baseman off to slow starts this year. Take a look around the league:

    Richie Sexson .217
    Jim Thome .215
    Carlos Delgado .208
    Carlos Pena .194
    Paul Konerko .194
    Ryan Howard .190
    David Ortiz .181
    Rich Aurilia .179
    Frank Thomas .167
    Jason Giambi .121
    Adam LaRoche .117

    All are over 30 years old (With the exception of Howard),
    and all of them are slugging first basemen (or DH) that are off to terrible starts this year.

    Gary Cohen & Ron Darling were mentioning during tonight;s game that in addition to some players not taking steroids or HGH anymore, older guys can’t take amphetamines anymore either.
    Is this the end of the over 35 year old sluggers?

    Stay tuned….

    (disclaimer: I am not accusing any of the above mentioned players of anything other than having a slow start).