About two months ago, I was pretty hard on the Toronto Blue Jays for dumping Frank Thomas. He had gotten off to a slow start and the Jays benched him, then ultimately granted his release. Based on 72 plate appearances the Jays felt that Thomas was taking up a roster spot that could be better-used by someone else. Here is what I had to say about the situation.
One lesson from principles of microeconomics is that just because you are earning a loss doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good idea to shut down production. As long as the revenues from production exceed the variable costs, you make money to cover a portion of your fixed sunk costs by continuing to operate. Shutting down increases your losses. If a player is producing more on the field than he costs to keep on the roster, then you should keep him on the roster. The Jays have just gone from a situation where they were getting Matt Stairs and Frank Thomas for $9 million (prorated salaries for the remainder of 2008 of $7 million and $2 million) to having only Matt Stairs for that same expenditure. I don’t see how this is an improvement.
This situation differs from the Russ Ortiz situation in 2006 with Arizona (Keith Law offers a nice summary). Ortiz was in the second year of a four-year, $33-million deal. In 2005 and 2006 he was worse than the options available to the team, and therefore it made sense to send Ortiz on his way. Though the Diamondbacks are still paying off the deal, Ortiz isn’t good enough to pitch on a major-league roster. Had Arizona continued to employ his services he would have made the team worse; therefore, cutting Ortiz was the right move. In Thomas’s case, several teams are interested in acquiring his services because he is better than available alternatives.
And what has transpired since the deal? He’s posted a .319/.417/.516 line which translates to an OPS+ for the year of 125–exactly what it was in 2007. Even if he had been much worse than this, it was a bad move for the Jays. Now the A’s are getting Thomas on the Jays’ dime. This is the most obvious GM blunder that I have seen in some time.