Thomas, released by Blue Jays, returns to Oakland

OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Big Hurt is back in the Bay Area -- and it's as if he never left.

The Oakland Athletics agreed to terms Thursday with designated hitter Frank Thomas, who was released Sunday by the Toronto Blue Jays to become a free agent after getting frustrated with his lack of playing time.

Thomas was in the lineup for the A's in their 11-2 win over the Minnesota Twins, batting cleanup as the DH. He will be the team's new regular designated hitter just as he was while a catalyst in Oakland's 2006 playoff run and AL West championship that year.

Thomas, with his larger-than-life personality and 6-foot-5, 257-pound frame, was back in the green and gold and wearing No. 35 as he began his second stint in Oakland sporting that big grin that's such a part of him.

"It feels nice to be in the batter's box," Thomas said. "It's great to be back. It's been crazy with the travel and five hours' sleep. I'm ready to go. This is where I want to be."

The deal came together in a matter of hours Wednesday after Thomas cleared waivers. Things were finalized in the early evening, and Thomas had about an hour to get to the airport and fly to Oakland from Chicago.

Oakland will be on the hook only for about $337,000 -- a prorated share of the $390,000 league minimum -- so this move was a bargain for general manager Billy Beane and a club looking to boost its power numbers.

The A's started Thursday's game with nine home runs.

"Bottom line, this was a risk worth taking," Beane said. "He looks in fantastic shape. Obviously we had a great year from him and he was a great influence on the club. It would be foolish on our part not to consider it."

To clear roster room, the A's placed outfielder Travis Buck on the 15-day disabled list retroactive to April 19 with shin splints and transferred six-time Gold Glove third baseman Eric Chavez to the 60-day disabled list.

With Thomas playing regularly, Jack Cust will move to left field for the time being and Mike Sweeney will get more time at first base along with rookie Daric Barton. Barton had his first day off of the season Thursday.

"He has a presence to him," A's manager Bob Geren said of Thomas. "Somebody of his background with his accomplishments and someone of his size, when he's on the field it has a powerful feel to it."

The 39-year-old Thomas, who will get the vast majority of his $8 million salary this year from the Blue Jays, is hitless in his past 13 at-bats and had gone 4-for-35 since homering in three straight games April 5-8. Known as a slow starter, he batted .167 with three homers and 11 RBIs for Toronto this year.

Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi -- good friends with Beane -- called it a "mutual agreement" to release Thomas after they met Sunday in the clubhouse.

"The situation there, they had just spent $200 million on two guys," Thomas said. "I understand it and I respect it. Maybe it wasn't a good fit there for me. I'm just happy to be back here. I wasn't forcing their hand. For them to tell me I wasn't going to play every day and I wasn't in their future plans, it really wasn't a good situation. I respect J.P. for coming out and saying that to me and we parted ways, peacefully."

While Oakland has committed to a rebuilding phase starting at the lowest levels of the franchise's farm system, Beane is still trying to keep this team in the division race.

"We're also not running an instructional league," the GM said. "We're running a professional sports franchise."

Thomas fit in well during his other year in the laid-back Oakland clubhouse, and his teammates don't expect him to disrupt the chemistry now. Cust and Sweeney have both said they would welcome Thomas and anything he can do to help the team win.

"He's an experienced guy, a future Hall of Famer," Cust said. "That can only help out, and he's another right-handed bat. I'm excited to play with a guy like that."

Sweeney and Thomas faced off for years during Sweeney's time with the Kansas City Royals while Thomas played for the Chicago White Sox.

"Frank Thomas is a great player -- one of the best players to ever play this game," said Sweeney, who hit his first homer of the year Wednesday night.

Thomas left Oakland after the A's 2006 AL Championship Series season, signing an $18.12 million, two-year contract with Toronto. He had hoped to stay put in Oakland but couldn't turn down the money from Toronto that the A's couldn't match.

This time, he said there were three or four teams in the mix to sign him.

"I love it here. I didn't want to leave," Thomas said. "I'm here to provide a spark."

Thomas remade himself with the small-market A's, and his paycheck wasn't as small as it looked coming into the year. He signed an incentive-laden one-year deal for $500,000 but earned all $2.6 million of his possible bonuses based on plate appearances and keeping his troublesome left foot healthy.

In 2006, he batted .270 with a team-leading 39 home runs and 114 RBIs in 137 games after missing all but 108 games the previous two seasons with the White Sox because of injury.

Now, he hopes to retire with the A's.

"I hope so," Thomas said. "That'd be great."