CLEVELAND – Jim Thome will be back in an Indians uniform tonight.
With reports circulating for much of Thursday, Indians officials finally confirmed that the club had reached a deal with the Twins to bring Thome, the team’s all-time home run hitter, back to Cleveland. He was acquired for a player to be named.
Reports that the Indians had claimed Thome off waivers were prevalent Wednesday night, but there were also reports that the White Sox did the same to block Cleveland’s attempt to land the slugger, who turns 41 Sunday. It was reported Thursday afternoon that Chicago did put a waiver claim in on a Minnesota player, but it was Jason Kubel, and not Thome.
The Indians public relations department acknowledged Thursday afternoon on Twitter that the team had claimed Thome off waivers and were working on a deal with the Twins.
Thome, batting .243 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs in 71 games for the Twins, did have a no-trade clause in his one-year, $3 million contract with Minnesota that could have nixed the deal, but he waived the clause.
“I think it’s important to note that Jim had a choice, and he ultimately chose to come back to Cleveland,” said Indians general manager Chris Antonetti. “He could have remained in Minnesota or he could have pursued other options, but he chose to come back to Cleveland. We’re elated that he did.”
Thome’s return to Cleveland, where he starred from 1991-2002, figures to boost attendance at Progressive Field, and it should help the Indians on the field as well. With designated hitter Travis Hafner possibly lost for the season thanks to a right foot strain, Thome, who this season became the eighth player in history to hit 600 career homers, is expected to log the majority of at-bats in Hafner’s absence.
At this point in his career, Thome, a 17-year veteran, is not an every-day player, but his addition is expected to lift an anemic Cleveland offense that has struggled for much of the year. Cleveland, which was off Thursday, trails the first-place Tigers by 6 ½ games in the Central Division standings. The Indians have lost six of their last seven games and open a three-game series against the Royals tonight at Progressive Field. Thome is expected to be in the lineup.
“We know (Hafner) is going to be out a minimum of two weeks,” Antonetti said. “Right now, every game is meaningful, and we feel bringing Jim back will help us be more competitive and help us win games.”
Cleveland is expected to pick up the remaining $500,000 on Thome’s contract with the Twins.
His return to Cleveland will be cause for celebration.
Thome was a member of six Central Division championship teams after breaking into the majors with Cleveland, appearing in both World Series for the Indians in 1995 and ’97. He still owns all-time records in homers (334) and walks (997), while ranking in the top five in six other offensive categories.
His departure to the Phillies via free agency in 2003 was a tough pill to swallow for Indians fans that listened when Thome said his preference was to finish his career in Cleveland. Boos outweighed cheers for Thome, a member of the Indians 100 greatest players roster, whenever he returned with an opposing team.
Now, Thome might indeed finish his career where it started – in Cleveland.
“Jim Thome is a Hall of Fame-caliber player and person,” Antonetti said. “He has meant so much to this organization, both on and off the field, and it is an honor to bring him back in an Indians uniform, where he created so many great memories.
“Having his bat and presence in the middle of the lineup, certainly improves our team.”
Omar Vizquel, a longtime teammate of Thome’s in Cleveland, tweeted, “That’s so great that big thome is back with the tribe. Awesome.”
The injury-depleted Indians could be dealing with another medical issue.
Acta said starting pitcher Josh Tomlin (12-7, 4.25 ERA) will likely miss his next start with an undisclosed injury.
Tomlin was the loser Sunday against Seattle, with his streak of lasting at least five innings ending at his first career 37 starts – tied for the longest such streak since 1919.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.