Frank Thomas finished fourth in the MVP balloting with the Oakland Athletics two seasons ago, and sources say the Athletics were in discussions with Thomas' agents Wednesday, three days after he was cut by the Toronto Blue Jays.
Thomas, who turns 40 next month, was hitting .167 with 13 strikeouts in 60 at-bats for the Blue Jays, following a spring training in which talent evaluators with other teams wondered if Thomas's bat speed had slowed to the point of no return. Thomas got off to a poor start for the Athletics two seasons ago, hitting .190 in April and .268 in May before effectively carrying the Athletics for the last four months of the season and finishing the year with 39 homers and 114 RBIs.
The Athletics are tied for first place in the AL West in a year in which they are developing young players like Chris Denorfia, Daric Barton, Travis Buck and Ryan Sweeney, and it's unlikely that they would sign Thomas if they thought he would infringe on the playing time of the youngest generation of Oakland players. But the decision on Thomas might come down to a simple evaluation of whether the Athletics are better off keeping Thomas instead of veteran hitter Mike Sweeney -- power vs. average.
Sweeney, 34, is hitting .288, with six walks and just one strikeout in 52 at-bats; rival talent evaluators say they don't think Sweeney will ever hit for the same kind of power he had with the Royals, and so far this year, his extra-base output is three doubles. Thomas might hit for a lower batting average, while drawing more walks and will strike out more, and he probably represent a greater home-run threat at this stage than Sweeney.
Oakland's roster is stacked with a lot of left-handed hitters -- Jack Cust, Barton, Buck, Sweeney, etc. -- and the Athletics have seen a lot of left-handed pitching so far, mustering just three homers in 248 at-bats, with a .242 average. If the Athletics choose to sign Thomas, it might be to give Oakland a greater power threat against lefties: Thomas hit nine homers in 144 plate appearances against lefties last year, and had nine homers and 31 walks in 140 plate appearances against lefties in 2006.
The Athletics tried to re-sign Thomas after the 2006 season but lost him to the Blue Jays, who are on the hook for virutally all of Thomas' salary this year after dumping him. Any team that picked up Thomas would only have to pay him the prorated minimum salary.
Buster Olney is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine.