Acquired DH Jim Thome from the Minnesota Twins for a Player To Be Named Later
(The title of the above release is "Jim Thome Returns Home.")
As a baseball move, this trade makes some sense. Travis Hafner is likely done for the season, and the Indians desperately need offensive help. But with the Tigers now 6.5 games up, it's probably a case of too little, too late for Thome to make a meaningful contribution towards a division title. The player the Indians will give up probably won't be much of a prospect, as there isn't much season left, and the Twins could only deal with the Indians. The Twins could have pulled Thome off waivers and tried again, but if a team would have claimed him then, the Twins would not have been compensated.
There has been a lot of chatter about Thome really wanting to go to Philadelphia instead, starting with Ken Rosenthal's piece when the Indians first claimed him. The Twins would have had to pull him off waivers and then placed him on release waivers, allowing Thome to reject every claim except that of the Phillies. That would have circumvented the waiver rules, and, in my mind, would have been anti-competitive.The waiver rules are there for a reason: to allow the worst clubs first dibs on a player in an attempt to have a more competitive league.
Let 'em protest. Rosenthal goes on to say that, by trying such an angle, Thome might have taken a hit to his gleaming reputation for being a swell guy — and he's probably right. But at this point in Thome's career, why shouldn't he try? If there's a loophole through which Thome can pick his own employer — one that stands a good chance of winning a championship — then he ought to do it. For him, winning is all that remains.
The problem is, though, that there are those pesky rules everyone else has to follow in August, and there are no exceptions for future Hall of Famers who want the best chance of winning a ring. The time for Thome to choose his contender would have been before the July 31 deadline. That is when a no-trade clause has the most impact, as the Indians found out when Carlos Beltran (reportedly) turned down a trade to the Indians in favor of the Giants. Now Beltran turned the Indians down because he wanted to stay in the National League, but the main idea remains: a no-trade clause, exercised in this manner, allows a player a measure of control over where he plays. If Thome had wanted to make sure he ended up in Philadelphia, then he could have asked the Twins to deal him there before the July deadline. But he was closing in on 600 home runs, so the Twins didn't try to deal him at the time, and apparently Thome didn't ask to be dealt.
So Thome had a couple difficult choices to make: does he (a) exercise his no-trade clause with Cleveland in an attempt to somehow get to the Phillies, or (b) waive his no-trade clause, go to Cleveland, but have only a small chance of making the playoffs? In the end, he chose to waive his no-trade clause, and go not only go to a team with at least a chance of winning a division, but to the organization he started with, and the organization whose cap he'll wear when he goes into the Hall of Fame.
I've left the most ticklish issue for last: the psychological impact of Thome coming back nine years after leaving in acrimonious fashion on the Cleveland fanbase. Of course another Cleveland athlete has since managed to top Thome in acrimoniousness of a departure, but the events of November 2002 still remains a rather bitter chapter in Indians and Cleveland sports history. Usually at least once a season a columnist, normally from another market, remarks on how Indians fans should put aside their feelings of bitterness and cheer Thome. Of course, it's easy to say those things when you didn't have the emotional investment in him that Cleveland fans did, and feel the despair that came with that hero leaving like Cleveland fans felt. It's easy to tell someone else to forgive when you aren't emotionally involved. Yes, reason says that Thome made the correct financial decision for his family, and he made the decision that gave him a better shot of winning a ring. But we're fans, not philosophers.
What I do think this move will do is to allow the fans a chance to recognize Thome for what he did during his Indians career, and set the stage for future accolades. He'll most certainly go into the Indians Hall of Fame soon after he retires, he'll be going into the Baseball Hall of Fame shortly after he's eligible, and #25 will be retired by the Indians at some point in the future. Those should be joyous occasions, and hopefully the next six weeks will make them so.