Thome traded; Amaro says it’s not a fire sale
MIAMI – In some ways, Jim Thome became a metaphor for this Phillies season. It sounded so good at the beginning, but just didn’t work out.
Thome, who nearly a decade ago helped make Philadelphia a destination point for top baseball talents, was traded to the Baltimore Orioles early Saturday night for a pair of low-level minor leaguers.
The deal ended Thome’s seven-month return engagement with the Phillies. The 41-year-old slugger signed as a free-agent in November and hoped to play some first base in place of injured Ryan Howard and serve as a pinch-hitter all while making a play for that elusive World Series ring.
It didn’t work. The Phillies are a team in shambles, a season-high eight games under .500 and 10 games back in the National League East. Thome played some first base in April but is no longer able to do that after he ended up on the disabled list when his chronically sore back flared up. He was a big hit as a designated hitter in interleague play but was sent back to the bench when that portion of the schedule ended. With the first half of the season ending Sunday, the one-dimensional Thome became too cumbersome for a struggling team like the Phillies to carry. He and his 609 career homers are off to Baltimore. The Orioles are in second place in the American League East, five games behind the Yankees.
Thome received news of his trade from his mentor, manager Charlie Manuel, moments after the Phils’ 3-2 loss to Miami on Saturday. Manuel said Thome would have pinch-hit if the game lasted one more batter.
“There are always emotions when you’re traded because you have so much respect for the organization,” Thome said. “This is a special place. There’s a part of me that’s excited to get a chance to go play a little bit. Baltimore has been having a nice year. It’ll be exciting to go over there and help those guys win and get some at-bats.”
Knowing that Thome had become a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, GM Ruben Amaro Jr. had made Thome available to American League clubs a couple of weeks ago.
“To be frank, when it was evident he wasn't able to play first base for us, it was difficult to carry this type of a player on our club,” Amaro said. “In the National League, it's very, very difficult to carry player who is unable to play the position.”
Amaro said fans should not see this move as the start of a fire sale.
“This wasn't a trade that had anything to do with [sending] a message,” he said. “This is a trade that is beneficial for us later on and hopefully beneficial for Jim now. If people think this is the start of us selling players off, that's incorrect. We are in a tough spot because we have not played well and are behind. But we're not throwing in any towels.”
Amaro indicated that he’d like to see how his club rebounds with Howard and Roy Halladay coming back in July. Earlier this season, however, he acknowledged that the team could shed talent if it was not in contention around the trade deadline.
Chase Utley did not see the Thome trade as a message to the team, but he acknowledged: “I guess the reality is, yeah, we need to start winning games or things can change.”
Cole Hamels added: “It’s just a matter of time if you’re not winning. Things are going to go in different directions.”
Utley said it was bittersweet to see Thome go.
“Jim is a great teammate,” he said. “I think we’re all sorry to see him go, but also we’re excited he’ll get opportunities to get at-bats daily and still do a lot of damage.”
Thome was the Phillies’ DH in nine straight interleague games in June and hit .333 (12 for 36) with four homers, 14 RBIs and a 1.137 OPS. He was 1 for 16 with 11 strikeouts as a pinch-hitter.
“I am excited to go play and get some at-bats,” he said.
Manuel, who managed Thome in the minor leagues and in Cleveland and was Thome’s personal hitting guru, was saddened that things did not work out with his protégé. Manuel championed Thome’s signing and dreamed of Thome winning games with one swing of the bat en route to a championship.
“Yeah, it’s difficult for me to see him go, but at the same time, if he sits here on the bench, it’s hard for him to keep his timing,” Manuel said. “When we signed him we thought he could play more first base, but his back won’t let him.”
Said Thome: “The disappointing thing for me is I wasn’t able to play as much first base as I thought.”
Thome said he “absolutely” believed his now former teammates can turn their season around.
Time will tell if that happens.
The Phillies got two minor-leaguers for Thome. Gabriel Lino is a 19-year-old catcher from Venezuela. He was hitting .218 with four homers and 18 RBIs in 56 games for Delmarva in the South Atlantic League. He will be assigned to single A Lakewood. Righthanded pitcher Kyle Simon, 21, was 2-8 with a 3.96 ERA at Single A Frederick in the Carolina League. He was a fourth-round pick in the 2011 draft out of the University of Arizona. He will be assigned to Clearwater of the Florida State League.E-mail Jim Salisbury at email@example.com