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

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