How signing David Ortiz would be different than Frank Thomas


Over the weekend, Richard Griffin of the Toronto Star chimed in on what I speculated back on October 18th, which was the possibility of the Jays signing impending free agent slugger David Ortiz.

While it’s unlikely that the Jays will pursue another DH this offseason after exercising their club option on their intended 2012 DH, Edwin Encarnacion, earlier this evening, signing Ortiz would obviously represent an upgrade at the position. Talks between the Jays and Ortiz will probably only take place if the Red Sox decline to offer him arbitration, which is quite possible considering he made $12.5 million in 2011.

Griffin concludes his blog entry by mentioning how the Jays signed a similar aging, DH-only type back in 2006: Frank Thomas. I opted to leave the Thomas comparison out of my initial article on Ortiz, but with it having surfaced more lately, here’s how signing Ortiz would be different.

When the Jays went out and inked Thomas to a two-year, $18.12 million contract in November 2006, he was just coming off of a great season with the Oakland A’s where he hit .270/.381/.545 with 39 home runs and 114 RBI in 137 games. He was also voted as the AL’s Comeback Player of the Year after being so successful after playing just 34 games the year before in 2005 due to injury. Thomas had been plagued with injuries many times before his 2006 campaign with the A’s, though, as he was limited to 74 games or less in three of his five seasons from 2001-2005. Nevertheless, then-Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi assured fans that the organization had done everything they could regarding medical clearance to go forward with the move.

Thomas came as advertised for the Jays in 2007, clubbing 30 doubles, 26 home runs and 95 RBI, with a slash line of .277/.377/.480. The Jays paid him $10.12 million that year ($1 million base salary plus a $9.12 million signing bonus) to lead their club in home runs, RBIs, walks, and on-base percentage, so it was considered money well spent. In fact, if those numbers were plugged into the 2011 Jays roster, he would have ranked second only to Jose Bautista in those four categories. Thomas logged 624 plate appearances in an unexpected 155 games that year, which set the table for his rift with the Blue Jays the following season in 2008.

After starting the year on a 10-for-60 (.167) skid, Thomas was benched by Jays manager John Gibbons on April 19, despite having been known as a slow starter over the course of his career. Thomas reacted angrily by refusing to leave the clubhouse at the end of the game to congratulate his teammates on the field following their win over Detroit. Afterwards, he publicly sounded off by refusing to accept his decrease in playing time.

Since Thomas’ contract also included a $10 million option for the 2009 season that would have automatically vested if he managed 1,000 plate appearances in the two initial years of his contract, he was only 376 away on Opening Day 2008 from making it happen — just over half a season of regular at-bats. But when he was relegated to being a part-time player, he blasted the Jays organization and accused them of decreasing his playing time in order to avoid having to pay his $10 million option, not because of his early-season slump. Unsurprisingly, Thomas was released shortly after and went on to hit .319/.417/.516 in his first 26 games after re-signing with Oakland, before more injuries led to the end of his career.

During his time with the Jays, Thomas worked towards (and eventually reached) the 500 home run plateau — something that Ricciardi likely considered when signing the slugger with hopes that it could help boost attendance.

Ortiz, however, won’t be chasing any milestones, and current GM Alex Anthopoulos would certainly not include a third-year vesting option on a possible one or two year contract offer. Thomas was 39 years old in his first season with the Jays whereas Ortiz turns 36 in November, and Ortiz wouldn’t butt heads with his manager since he knew John Farrell from their time together in Boston. He’s also had a cleaner bill of health than Thomas over the years, appearing in at least 145 games in every season since since 2003 except for his 109-game campaign in 2008.

When the Jays had Thomas, a right-handed hitter, in the lineup in 2007, they had Lyle Overbay, Adam Lind, and the switch-hitting Gregg Zaun as their available left-handed hitters (as well as Russ Adams near the end of the season). Heading into the 2012 season, the Jays have Lind, Eric Thames, and Colby Rasmus as everyday left-handed hitters, with Travis Snider, David Cooper, and Adam Loewen all close behind. Signing a guy like Ortiz, a left-handed hitter, would give the Jays a solid, reliable power threat from the left-side and create a nice one-two punch with Bautista while further balancing out the lineup. Plus, though similar to Thomas, a guy like Ortiz is used to hitting in the cleanup spot and would finally take pressure off Lind by allowing him to hit either fifth or sixth instead.

Finally, perhaps the biggest difference between Thomas and Ortiz would be that Ortiz is coming from a division rival and the AL East. The Big Hurt’s numbers weren’t bad at all against AL East teams, but Ortiz’s track record and experience in the AL East — not to mention signing him would create a hole on Boston’s roster — has to be worth something.

All that being said, however, I still like the thought of seeing what Encarnacion could do with 550-600 at-bats as an everyday DH. If the Jays did go after a guy like Ortiz, though, Encarnacion would be the ideal complement to Adam Lind at first base in a platoon situation, supposing he can get more acclimated to the position.

Regardless of what happens, it’s going to be an exciting offseason!

-JM

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Tags: Adam Lind David Ortiz Edwin Encarnacion Frank Thomas Toronto Blue Jays

  • gnor

    Don’t like it. After spending the past 2 years trying to become speedier, and more athletic, Papi would immediately become the slowest guy on the team (barring Jose Molina), and would again require them to play station to station when he’s on base. You also have a really expensive player who can only DH, so you limit your ability to rotate the DH spot through the lineup when others need a rest. Not to mention that he will come with a hefty price tag and he’s not going to help them reach the playoffs any sooner.

  • gnor

    Don’t like it. After spending the past 2 years trying to become speedier, and more athletic, Papi would immediately become the slowest guy on the team (barring Jose Molina), and would again require them to play station to station when he’s on base. You also have a really expensive player who can only DH, so you limit your ability to rotate the DH spot through the lineup when others need a rest. Not to mention that he will come with a hefty price tag and he’s not going to help them reach the playoffs any sooner.

  • gnor

    Your argument about Papi coming from the AL East and Frank coming from the central doesn’t hold water. Thomas put up good numbers in his first season (in the AL East), and declined after that. His big problem I think, was not reporting in shape, and then trying to play himself into game shape. Maybe his bad knees limited his ability to work out, but the simple answer is that the train finally came to a stop.

    If I were AA right now, I would be trying to avoid signing any FA that stood a chance of playing their last game while wearing a Blue Jays uniform, something his predecessor wasn’t very good at.

  • gnor

    Your argument about Papi coming from the AL East and Frank coming from the central doesn’t hold water. Thomas put up good numbers in his first season (in the AL East), and declined after that. His big problem I think, was not reporting in shape, and then trying to play himself into game shape. Maybe his bad knees limited his ability to work out, but the simple answer is that the train finally came to a stop.

    If I were AA right now, I would be trying to avoid signing any FA that stood a chance of playing their last game while wearing a Blue Jays uniform, something his predecessor wasn’t very good at.

  • Jared_Macdonald

    Gnor, I appreciate the comments. The argument about Papi coming from the AL East isn’t designed to be at the forefront of the article (hence its location), but rather just a point indicating that Ortiz not only has more career games against AL East opponents already than Thomas, but he has considerably more in the years leading up to free agency (since Thomas was injured) and the extra point of being plucked from a division rival.

    Obviously Thomas put up good numbers in his first season and declined in his second, because he played all of 16 games for the Jays in 2008 including eight against AL East clubs. I do agree with you that his main problem was not showing up to camp in shape, though.

    There’s no denying that Papi would become the slowest member on the team, but you can do a lot worse than the player who led all DHs with a 4.2 WAR this past season and total WAR in the last nine years at DH. Again, as I mentioned in the article, I’m not exactly against an Ortiz signing, but I’d still like to see what Encarnacion can do with a full season’s worth of DH at-bats.

  • Jared_Macdonald

    Gnor, I appreciate the comments. The argument about Papi coming from the AL East isn’t designed to be at the forefront of the article (hence its location), but rather just a point indicating that Ortiz not only has more career games against AL East opponents already than Thomas, but he has considerably more in the years leading up to free agency (since Thomas was injured) and the extra point of being plucked from a division rival.

    Obviously Thomas put up good numbers in his first season and declined in his second, because he played all of 16 games for the Jays in 2008 including eight against AL East clubs. I do agree with you that his main problem was not showing up to camp in shape, though.

    There’s no denying that Papi would become the slowest member on the team, but you can do a lot worse than the player who led all DHs with a 4.2 WAR this past season and total WAR in the last nine years at DH. Again, as I mentioned in the article, I’m not exactly against an Ortiz signing, but I’d still like to see what Encarnacion can do with a full season’s worth of DH at-bats.

  • juanguzman

    i agree that ortiz would be a problem on the bases and that he would cost a pretty penny, however i do think that he would help the playoff push. with him batting 4th protecting bautista , it would allow lind to drop to the 5th spot or even 6th (if lawrie is hitting 5th) and take the pressure off of lind to drive in runs.

  • juanguzman

    i agree that ortiz would be a problem on the bases and that he would cost a pretty penny, however i do think that he would help the playoff push. with him batting 4th protecting bautista , it would allow lind to drop to the 5th spot or even 6th (if lawrie is hitting 5th) and take the pressure off of lind to drive in runs.