Signing the Great Equalizer

Athletics Nation, meet your 2006 Oakland A's DH Frank Thomas.

Otherwise known as "The Big Hurt", Thomas has been a mashing force throughout his career in the south side of Chicago.

There are so many different angles to dissect this move, it's tough to know where to start.  So let's start where Billy Beane probably started.  The statistics.

  • Over his career, Frank Thomas has a .995 OPS.  That's good for 10th in all of baseball history.  Let me repeat that, that's good for 10th in baseball history.  The other names on the list?  Ruth, Williams, Gehrig, Bonds, Helton (surely aided by the Colorado air), Foxx, Greenberg, Hornsby, and Manny Ramirez.  He is also an on-base machine, which had to have Billy Beane more than willing to take a chance on someone with these credentials.  Thomas ranks 12th all-time with a .427 OBP.  10 out of 15 years he has had 100 or more walks in a season.  So why was someone with this resume available?  That gets into another part of the equation to factor in.
  •  Thomas is a very large man (6'5", 275 pounds) with some questionable health issues.  The reports on Thomas and his injured ankle make him a scary proposition.  He played only 74 games in 2004 and 34 in 2005.  Thomas is like an 18-wheeler right now trying to successfully end his career on tricycle wheels.  I believe that the A's did their due diligence on this though.  Billy Beane's offseason reading has been nothing but medical reports.  First, Milton Bradley's and now, Thomas.  The other thing to keep in mind is that signing Thomas doesn't hurt the team.  The A's are a deeper team than they have been in many, many years.  If Thomas goes down for some time, they have Dan Johnson to DH and Nick Swisher to play first.  If Chavez goes down for a few weeks, they now have Antonio Perez to help at that position.  Same with Bobby Crosby and Mark Ellis.  Any one of the outfielders gets hurt, they have Jay Payton.  If one of the starting pitchers gets hurt, you have Saarloos and Kennedy in the pen.  The 2005-06 offseason will be remembered as one of addition without subtraction.  The only issue here will be spreading out the at-bats in the unlikely case that the team remains healthy.
  •  The lineup looks intimidating now.  With Ellis, Kotsay, Thomas, Chavez, Bradley, Crosby, Johnson, Swisher and Kendall, this team will have the ability to put up runs in bunches.  It has a lot of power and it has a ton of patience.  This lineup could drive opposing pitchers crazy with their ability to lay off bad pitches and hammer the stuff out over the plate.  And the thing is, this offense didn't need to get that much better.  It only needed to marginally improve, especially with the addition of Esteban Loaiza.  But now, with Payton, Perez and Kielty on the bench, it's deep and it should be protected against injury.  Although I wouln't be surprised to see Payton moved, I also wouldn't be surprised if he stays here to help guard against injury.  The only challenge then is to keep all the players in the clubhouse happy with playing time if everyone stays healthy.  Macha has struggled with his lack of depth over the last few years, let's see how he does with an abundance of depth.
  •  Thomas has a reputation of being a good clubhouse presence and someone who is a good leader.  While I don't usually put a lot of stock into these "reputations", I firmly believe that Frank Thomas will have a positive impact on the A's clubhouse, and could even counteract any problems that may have arisen from the acquisition of Milton Bradley.
  •  Is Thomas the big bat so many ANers have been asking for?  That remains to be seen.  Thomas has only had 345 at-bats over the past two seasons.  He probably isn't the player he was in 2000, which was his last really great season.  But if he can get back to his 2003 form and slug .562, he will be the player who can put this team over the top.  Keep in mind that Thomas' worst slugging percentage over a season where he played more than 20 games in his career was .471.  The A's only had one position player over that number last year and that was Mark Ellis at .477.  Eric Chavez slugged .466.  That statistic, more than any other one, bodes well for the A's.  As Billy Beane is fond of saying, power is the great equalizer in baseball.  Beane got his equalizer in Thomas.
  •  Make no mistake about it, the signing of Frank Thomas means that the A's are going for it all this year.  You don't sign 37-year-old players, even to an incentive-laden deal, if you aren't thinking about winning in the short term.  Now, Zito may still eventually be traded, but if you couple Z being an Athletic along with this signing, it tells me that the front office believes this team has a legitimate shot this year to win the World Series.  And you know what?  I believe them.
  •  The A's aren't going to get perfect players...at least until this team gets its new stadium.  That's why you see the A's getting players like Thomas, who has the injury problems, and Bradley, who has the behavior problems.  But at the same time, these are players who can contribute to a team in a big way.  Thomas with his big stick.  Bradley with his stick and his defense.  In order to successfully run a small market club, you have to take risks, but you have to choose which risks are likely to bring the highest reward.  Thomas and Bradley could be huge cogs in a championship run.  But there is also big "ifs" associated with both of these players.  Thomas and his health and Bradley and his inability to stay out of trouble.
  •  I said this on the air with Marty Lurie on his Inside Baseball show and I'll say it now.  Since the A's have now signed Frank Thomas (I said "if the A's sign Thomas" on the air), I believe this team becomes the favorite in the American League to go to the World Series.  Now, circumstances can change that, like if the Angels suddenly got Tejada and Manny Ramirez, but as of right now, I really like the A's chances this year and I'm more excited than ever about this team.  
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