I e-mailed Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus to see if I couldn't get more precise analysis of Thomas's condition than I'd seen so far. Will has said elsewhere that he liked the Thomas pickup for the price, but he is more pessimistic about Thomas' prognosis than I would have hoped. Here is the exchange:
I read absolutely everything about the A's, and so far I seem to see a near unanimity of opinion that Frank Thomas can be expected to play a very limited number of games for the A's in 2006. Just to cite 3 examples from among the brighter set:
Joe Sheehan: "I just don't think he's going to be healthy enough to come to the plate more than 300 times, and a figure closer to 200 is likely."
Rob Neyer: "It does seem unlikely, though, that Thomas actually will play more than 50 or 60 games."
Will Carroll (on BP Radio): "I think 300 [at-bats] is about as much as you can hope for."
What I haven't seen from even one of the scores of opinions I've scanned on the topic is the reasoning behind these assessments. "I just don't think," "It does seem unlikely," and "I think" are not arguments. It sounds as though all of you are doing some really basic back-of-the-envelope guestimating: "Frank played a lot in 2003, very little in 2004-5, he seems to be rather better now but given age and the past couple years why don't we split the difference and call it 200-300 ABs."
That's a perfectly normal approach, but can't we do better than that? Most specifically, can't YOU do better than that? What I'd like is an assessment that takes into account Thomas's specific condition. Is his left foot problem a chronic one, rather like Barry Bonds' knees, where you'd expect him to have to take 3 days off per week to rest (although as a DH it's basically his JOB to rest all but a few minutes per game, so I don't see how that helps)? Or is it an acute either/or thing: Either the weakened bone breaks, and he's out from that point forward (like most of last year), or it doesn't break, and there's no particular reason he doesn't get in 600 PAs.
What I don't understand (please enlighten me!) is why a 600 PA season seems to be considered simply out of the question under any circumstances. I understand why that should be the case for Bonds, given the nature of his injuries, but I don't understand why Thomas, if his bone doesn't snap, crackle, or pop (and shouldn't he have a fighting chance at that outcome?), shouldn't have a shot at a more or less full season.
I'll post your response for the benefit of the eager eyes of Athletics Nation unless you specify otherwise.
Will's prompt reply:
"I'll have a TON on this in the upcoming A's THR. I hate to be a tease, but there is reasoning behind it. Here's something you can run -- 'Bones heal, except when they don't. Thomas' foot/ankle didn't hold up under a normal rehab, the load placed on a DH, and really, nothing's changed. Absent new information, there's no reason to change our expectation from last year.'"
THR is the Team Health Reports series he runs each spring, one on each team, strung out from February to the season's beginning. So we'll have to wait a bit for the promised "TON" of info. Here's what he wrote about Thomas last year's White Sox THR:
"Thomas' work at rehabbing his ankle from off-season surgery is counteracted by a low pain tolerance, but mid-May looks most likely barring additional setbacks. He was on crutches for seven months, and somehow still had lost 15 pounds upon his arrival to camp. He'll DH exclusively to protect the foot. When healthy, he's still a dangerous hitter."
(Right above his 2005 paragraph on Thomas was a very gloomy assessment of Jermaine Dye's chances of staying healthy, but -- freed from the weight of carrying around all those A's dollars -- Dye finally put in a healthy year.)
Notice there's a bit of an "out" clause in Will's e-mail: "absent new information." The A's certainly have newer medical information than Will has access to, so let's hope that Thomas's saying his ankle is now 90% (vs. "70%" when he came back last year) is an indicator that things are materially different this time around. I still don't see why we shouldn't expect Thomas to play pretty much every day as long as the bone holds up, with the key question being whether the bone can actually hold up. Time will tell.