Watching the current incarnation of the Cleveland Indians can get pretty difficult sometimes. Sure, this weekend was a good one for the Wahoos, but overall the team isn’t exactly setting Major League Baseball on fire.
The 2012 Indians are tough to watch for more than just this year’s frustrations, though. No matter how much my generation of Tribe fans tries, we’re still going to have visions of those 1990s teams dancing through our heads. I know that may not be fair to Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, and the rest of the present and future Indians, but it’s the truth.
Every time I try to forget those Indians teams that dominate the tiny areas of my brain devoted to Cleveland sports success something happens that shoves them back into the forefront of my consciousness. Last week was a prime example of that when Omar Vizquel announced that he was going to retire at the end of this season and that the Philadelphia Phillies had traded Jim Thome to the Baltimore Orioles for two minor leaguers.
We all knew Vizquel’s career had to be winding down, and I even wrote a column for Yahoo! Sports celebrating his career at the beginning of this season. While Thome is close to retirement as well, the news of his trade to Baltimore left me with more questions about his legacy than answers.
Does it make sense that a 41 year old Jim Thome would get dealt to an American League surprise contender make sense? The answer to this question is easy; absolutely. Thome had only appeared in 30 of the Phillies 80 games at the time of the trade because of a back injury and his .242 BA and 15 RBI isn’t enough for a team that had World Series aspirations.
The trade even works for both sides. Baltimore needed a low risk gamble for their struggling DH spot and Philadelphia had a chance to pick up two players the Development Director Joe Jordan knows and likes. (Jordan is formerly Baltimore’s Scouting Director)
Was the trade to Baltimore more than two teams making a business decision? This is the question that I’m not so sure about. Deep down I don’t want to believe it, but I think Jim Thome might be throwing his weight around to go ring chasing – or even more selfishly, legacy chasing.
Prior to this season, the list of teams that Thome would have legitimately made better was pretty long and predominately American League. When Thome took a $1.25 million contract to play for the Phillies, it sure seemed like he was signing under market value to play for a team that looked like an easy World Series contender. But after missing all of May and slumping for the last two weeks of June, rumors began to spread that Thome wanted out of Philadelphia and into a DH role on a contending American League team.
These were only rumors, of course, but dealing Thome quickly became the only option for the struggling Phillies. Who knows if the rumors that Thome was forcing his way to Texas were true, but landing in Baltimore virtually guarantees he’ll pass Sammy Sosa to move into 7th on the career home run list and into 22nd – passing Cal Ripken, Reggie Jackson, and Frank Thomas – on the career RBI list.
Thome’s time in baseball is drawing to a close, and he knows that he needs every last home run, hit, and RBI to be more than just another guy that stuck around forever just to pile up numbers in the DH era. We may never know if this trade to Baltimore was purely a baseball move by two teams or not, but it’s starting to look like Jim Thome is more “me first” than “aw, shucks” than any of us thought.