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01/26/10 10:47 PM EST
Thome returns to AL Central with Twins
Veteran slugger will be big bat off Minnesota bench
By Kelly Thesier / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins had been looking for ways to upgrade a relatively thin bench and on Tuesday, they did just that by adding a veteran slugger with 19 of years experience in the big leagues. Jim Thome agreed to terms with the Twins on a one-year, $1.5 million contract, pending a physical. The deal includes up to $750,000 in incentives. "We just signed a guy that's going to be in the Hall of Fame and it doesn't get much better than that," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said during a conference call to announce the deal on Tuesday night. "One of the classiest acts in the game. A great hitter, a great player and great for our clubhouse. I think we got the package deal here." Thome, 39, currently sits at 564 career home runs, five shy of Rafael Palmeiro for 11th place on the all-time list. And while the veteran hitter is entering the twilight of his career, he still has the ability to put up power numbers. Thome batted .249 with 23 homers and 74 RBIs in 107 games with the White Sox in 2009 before being dealt to the Dodgers on Aug. 31. Although Thome has spent the majority of the past four seasons as Chicago's primary designated hitter, he'll join the Twins in a bench role. Minnesota already has a left-handed hitting DH in Jason Kubel and the club is committed to Delmon Young as its everyday left fielder rather than moving Kubel permanently into the outfield. But Gardenhire said there will be plenty of ways for Thome to get in the lineup and that the veteran hitter will not just be limited to a pinch-hit role. "We play 'em all and everybody is going to get at-bats," Gardenhire said. "A guy like Jim, he's not going to just come off the bench. He's going to get his time playing and mix in at DH. ... That's the way you keep the guys going and keep everybody a part of it. We'll get plenty of at-bats for him." The signing came the day after White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told reporters that his club would not be bringing Thome back to Chicago. Although there was a lot of respect for Thome within the White Sox organization, Guillen preferred to go with a DH-by-committee and didn't feel that there would be enough at-bats for the slugger. Thome said that in addition to the White Sox and Twins, the Rays also showed interest. In the end, it was Minnesota's aggressive pursuit of the slugger and his knowledge of the division that led him to sign. "They were really excited about me coming there and so to me, it was a no-brainer," said Thome, who made $13 million in 2009. "I've always enjoyed the way they've played and how they've gone about their business. To be a part of that, it will be a lot of fun to go there and help them win." Thome has a history of back problems which have hampered his production slightly in recent years and have kept him from playing the field as well. Still the bench role is relatively new to the slugger, who was used as a pinch-hitter during his time with the Dodgers last season. He batted just .235 with no homers in 17 at-bats for Los Angeles, but Thome said the role should be easier to adjust to in the American League Central, the division he's called home for 16 of his 19 seasons. "One thing that was a little difficult for me was that I never knew the relievers," Thome said of his time with the Dodgers. "I wanted to get back to the American League, but I also wanted to be in the division that I knew the relievers. Obviously, playing in this division a long time, you kind of get a feel for what a left-hander or a closer is going to do late in the game because you've faced him. That was a big, big factor." No player has hit more home runs against the Twins than Thome, who spent the first 12 seasons of his career in Cleveland. He has 57 career homers vs. Minnesota, the most memorable of which is likely his solo shot off Nick Blackburn that gave the White Sox a 1-0 victory in the 2008 AL Central tiebreaker. The Twins have seen their share of damage inflicted by Thome over the years, but the club is looking forward to having him as a late-inning power threat -- something that they've lacked in recent years. "I think it's a joy to watch him walk up to the plate," Gardenhire said. "He looks like stinkin' Babe Ruth and he takes swings like Babe Ruth. We've seen too many fly against us. Now let's see some fly for us." Thome has always garnered quite a bit of respect in the Twins clubhouse, and Gardenhire said that his team is quite excited to add such an accomplished hitter and great guy to the mix. But the admiration appears to be mutual. "Even though I am 39, how can you not learn from [Justin] Morneau and [Joe] Mauer?" Thome said. "Those guys, they are what the game is all about right now. To be their teammate is an honor."
Kelly Thesier is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.