The Denver Post's Troy Renck reports the Indians are on the verge of a deal with former American League MVP Jason Giambi. Exact terms have not yet been announced, but it will be a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Giambi will contend for the DH job, or more likely, a platoon role for the position.
Giambi expressed interest in the Colorado Rockies managerial job this winter, but after being passed over for that he announced that he'd like to continue playing. Giambi is 42 years old, long passed his prime, when he was one of the very best hitters in baseball from 1999 to 2006. Over those eight seasons his batting line was .293/.433/.570, with an OPS of 16, behind only Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, and Manny Ramirez for those years. He finished among the top twenty in the MVP vote seven times and won the award in 2000, when he put up a video game line of .333/.476/.647, with an OPS+ of 187. He was even better in 2001 (.342/.477/.660, an OPS+ of 199), but Ichiro-mania swept Seattle's new right fielder to the aard that year.
Age has since caught up with Giambi, limiting both his playing time and production. Giambi has spent the last three and a half seasons with Colorado, playing a bit of first base and serving as the designated hitter during interleague play when healthy. He's put up a line of .245/.370/.444 in 487 plate appearances. With much of that coming in the thin air at Coors Field, those figures have been good for an OPS+ of 106.
Because it's a minor league deal and won't be for much money, there's no real risk involved. At the same time, I find it a bit curious that just days after the team called up conversations with Jim Thome because they didn't want to commit a roster spot to a designated hitter, they'd agreed to terms with Giambi. The two players are the same age and both bat left-handed. Frankly, there's no one more similar to Thome than Giambi at this point, and vice versa.
Here are their numbers over the last two seasons:
Thome's advantages are even stronger if you're just looking at 2012 (or if you go further back and include 2010). Thome is my all-time favorite Indian, so I'm willing to concede that some of my interest over the last few weeks in seeing the Tribe bring him back was nostalgia. Others argued he was unlikely to stay healthy enough to be worthwhile. That same point seems even more true in regards to Giambi (though part of his shortage in playing time in recent years is due to a lack of DH opportunities, as he was with a National League team).
I wonder if Thome was (is) holding out for a Major League contract offer, and if that was the obstacle to him signing with Cleveland. To me that seems like the only logical explanation for signing Giambi so soon after saying Thome was no longer a target. In any event, Giambi could still prove a passable option as a DH against right-handed pitchers in two or three games a week, though I wouldn't hold my breath for anything more than league average production (and league average is below average for a DH). The only 42-year-olds to put up an OPS+ of 100 or better in 200 PA or more in the last 100 years were Barry Bonds, Sam Rice, Carl Yastrzemski, and Stan Musial.
As I said though, there's no risk here, and maybe the Indians get lucky.