April 21, 2008
Slugger sent packingWith Thomas released, diminutive infielder Eckstein puts hurt on Tigers
By MIKE RUTSEY -- Sun Media
The Blue Jays and the Big Hurt parted company yesterday.
The Jays didn't want Frank Thomas to stick around and become The Big Pain.
The not-so-stunning development occurred the morning after the Jays told Thomas that he would not be in the lineup as the designated hitter but would be riding the pine on the bench.
On Saturday, Thomas was incensed.
"I didn't expect this at all," he said. "This is a shocker. It's terrible. Don't tell me I can't help this team win.
"If they don't want me here, then why not just cut me and then they wouldn't have to worry about the $10 million next year?"
Which is what happened after the parties met yesterday morning prior to the Jays' 5-3 victory over Detroit.
"I spoke with Frank Thomas this morning in the clubhouse and came to a mutual agreement, both Frank and myself, that probably to move forward it's best that we give Frank his release and let him get on with his career in another direction," general manager J.P. Ricciardi said.
"When I talked to Frank, the one thing I mentioned to him was that your role will probably be diminished and just knowing you I don't think you re going to be happy in that role. He said he would not be happy in that role so he thought the best bet was just to move on."
Ricciardi said that warning bells regarding Thomas were ringing in their heads as early as spring training. Thomas had trouble getting around on a fastball then and hadn't progressed much since.
"It wasn't so much based on just 60 at-bats," Ricciardi said. "I think it was a culmination of spring training and watching last year and just thinking that our best opportunity is to put other guys in the lineup at this point."
Thomas got off to a slow start last year -- he hit .250 in April and .193 in May -- before ending the year with 26 homers and 95 RBIs. So what's different this year?
"Last year we had a little bit more time on our side with the injuries that we sustained," Ricciardi said. "We had a little bit more of an opportunity to run him out there and let him kind of work things out. I think this year we have some guys that are going, like Matt Stairs, and we'd like to get him in the lineup a little bit more."
So that's it and the Jays, a team without a lot of home run power with Thomas, is that much more impotent now.
Scott Rolen, who was scheduled to start in a rehab assignment today with class-A Dunedin, may be back in a week and can add some punch to a lineup that needs it.
Then there is the question of who replaces Thomas on the roster. Because of the quick developments, yesterday there was no one.
DIAZ CALLED UP
After the game, the Jays announced that catcher Robinson Diaz, who is hitting .368 at Syracuse, would join the team today.
The obvious long-term answer is Adam Lind, the left fielder of the future, who is hitting .360 with three homers and 13 RBIs at triple-A Syracuse. Lind, though, is bothered with a sore neck and won't be available for three to four days.
"He's not far away," Ricciardi said of Lind. "He's a name that we're considering, but right now we haven't' made a decision. We're waiting to see when Rolen comes back. That'll facilitate some other moves, too."
So, are the Jays a better team without Thomas?
"I don't know," centre fielder Vernon Wells offered. "That remains to be seen. We haven't been the best team so far this year. We definitely have some improvements to make and we're going to continue to do that."
In yesterday's win, improvement and power came from some unusual sources.
In the Jays' four-run fourth, John McDonald drove in his first run of the season with a two-out single and David Eckstein followed with a three-run home run, his first homer of the campaign.
"The little men did the work today," was how winning pitcher A.J. Burnett put it.
But they can't count on Eckstein hitting three-run homers every game.