Whenever I feel inclined to veer away from the pile of existing hot-stove rumors -- credible or otherwise -- and write about an idea that hasn't really garnered much attention from the mainstream media, I like to first ensure that it passes the smell test; in other words, if it doesn't sound logical and doesn't have a prayer of a chance of happening, then it's probably best left ignored. However, this year's overabundance of defensively impaired, DH-suited veterans combined with the Rangers' seeming resistance to an in-house DH rotation means that one could kick around any of the available names and feel as though Texas might yet sign them, and know that Texas has at least discussed them internally.
Two days after the conclusion of the World Series, I made my rather wordy case against bringing back Vladimir Guerrero in 2011, and while I'm still not completely comfortable with the thought of throwing money at a dedicated DH-only solution (particularly since all of the remaining "solutions" have some warts), there is one name that does ease my mind to a certain degree: Jim Thome. Most indications up to this point in time suggest that Texas ultimately will sign Guerrero, but the glut of alternatives, Guerrero's shaky second half, and the unsettling perception that he looks like a racehorse on his last legs have clearly diminished the Rangers' sense of urgency to get a deal done, and until a deal does get done, Thome -- who was first connected to Texas by SI.com's Jon Heyman some three weeks ago -- remains just as viable a possibility as Guerrero.
The very first thing you should note about the idea of signing Thome is that it may be entirely contingent upon the acquisition of a right-handed-hitting first baseman and/or outfielder with some ability to deal damage against southpaws, because Thome, lethal as he might be against right-handed pitching (.302/.455/.698 last season; .294/.430/.617 for his career), will invariably have his overall value undercut by prolonged exposure to left-handers; of course, the Rangers needed to acquire this sort of player in the first place. Regardless, there's something aesthetically appealing about the idea of Thome's still-sweet swing launching fly balls into the Ballpark's home run porch and right-center field power alley, and something tactically appealing about the idea of deploying a Hamilton/Cruz/Thome/Kinsler quadruple-punch in the heart of the order against right-handers, which has absolute nightmare potential for opposing skippers in late-inning situations.
Nearly as intriguing as the potential match-up headache, however, are the cost/playing time considerations. I've stumbled upon some scattered complaints from Twins fans that Ron Gardenhire should have allocated more than 340 plate appearances to Thome last season, but he's probably not a real great bet for anything beyond 350-400 plate appearances in 2011, anyway. Playing in the majors at age 40 with a history of nagging back problems necessitates a realistic self-evaluation, and in Thome you have someone who likely realizes his physical limitations, and is at peace with the fact that he's no longer capable of playing on an everyday basis. There may be no such luck with Guerrero, who amassed 640-plus plate appearances last season and, despite the thought that Thome may be a greater health risk, has outpaced Thome in the disabled-list days department by a 66-0 margin over the last two seasons.
This is crucial, because if Guerrero is seeking another 600-plate appearance campaign, and the coaching staff feels compelled to let him pursue that (which I fully expect would be the case), then there's very little opportunity to give guys like Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, and Ian Kinsler breaks from the playing field while keeping their bats in the lineup; this is particularly important in Hamilton's case, as the organization, while recognizing that his defense is valuable in left field, no doubt comprehends the risk associated with uninterrupted playing time in the field. With Thome, you preserve some of that desirable flexibility and still manage to wield a very dangerous weapon against a considerable number of major league starting pitchers (and have one hell of a pinch-hitting option).
The cost factor appears a bit less significant than it did back when it seemed as though the Rangers might reel in Cliff Lee, because it now appears less likely that they will press up against payroll boundaries (unless, of course, they pull the trigger on Adrian Beltre, which I know Pras would love to see), but everyone loves a good deal, and the cost-conscious fan will probably come to prefer Thome's next deal over Guerrero's. While Thome won't rake in a measly $1.5 million base salary again, something in the $3-4 million range isn't totally out of the question, and of the few American League teams in need of help at DH, Texas could be the most appealing option from the standpoint of offering the path of least resistance to the post-season; players nearing the ends of their careers without a championship to their name generally take this into account.
And for those who would question whether Thome would be a capable substitute for Guerrero in the Rangers clubhouse (for whatever that is actually worth), his reputation in this regard is excellent. Of course, none of this is to say that Thome constitutes a perfect fit with the Rangers the way that, say, Cliff Lee would have, and I've probably involved some amount of wishful thinking into this 900-word exercise, but if Texas really does have its heart set on plucking a middle-of-the-order power bat from the collection of available hit-only talent, I think there is a very legitimate case to be made for going with Thome before Guerrero, or Manny Ramirez, or ...