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December 03, 2002



Thome is worth the risk
By Rob Dibble

The Philadelphia Phillies made an aggressive move, acquiring first baseman Jim Thome in what could be the biggest signing of the offseason.

Jim Thome's big bat will be a welcomed addition to the Phillies' lineup.
The 32-year-old slugger agreed to a six-year contract that guarantees him $85 million. Any time a team spends that much money on one player, it's a gamble. Sure, Thome was one of the AL's best power hitters and the hottest free agent on the market, but there are no guarantees in baseball. Sometimes, the ends don't justify the means. Circumstance and life's twists and turns play a huge role in the outcome of every career.

Like any new acquisition, it remains to be seen whether Thome will be a good fit in his new uniform. The question is whether he's worth the risk.

In December of 1998, the Los Angeles Dodgers made Kevin Brown (a former teammate of mine) the first $100 million man in baseball. At the time, certainly no pitcher had seen such a payday (seven years, $105 million) -- mostly because teams couldn't afford it -- so the signing caused quite a buzz.

Brown, like Thome, was the most coveted free agent on the market. At 34, his credentials were impressive: He led the Florida Marlins to a 1997 World Series championship and the San Diego Padres to a NL championship and World Series appearance in 1998.

Brown began his L.A. story in a strong way, posting an 18-9 record his first year. But the following year, injuries began affecting the aging veteran. In 2000, his record dipped to 13-6. And by 2001, he slipped to 10-4. Last season, Brown was just 3-4 in only 10 starts.

As a great guy with some good stuff left, Brown should be around for a few more years. But strictly from a financial standpoint, his deal wasn't the best bang for the Dodgers' buck.

In 2000, Ken Griffey Jr. was traded from the Seattle Mariners to the Cincinnati Reds and was given a nine-year, $116.5 million extension. During his 11-year stint in Seattle, Griffey hit 398 home runs and won 10 Gold Gloves, while helping the Mariners become one of the AL's most feared teams. But since his move, injuries have plagued Junior, and solid NL pitching has kept him to just 70 homeruns, 206 RBI in 326 games in Cincinnati.

The Reds are now crossing their fingers for a healthy Junior Griffey in 2003.

Then there is Mike Hampton, who led both the Houston Astros and the New York Mets to playoff runs. But the high altitude in Colorado didn't bode well for the lefty. Since signing a big-time $121 million deal with Colorado in 2001, Hampton has been hit -- hard. Now with the Atlanta Braves, Hampton hopes to regain the promise and composure of his earlier years.

Thome's resume is equally as impressive as, if not more than, each of the aforementioned players. From 1999-2002, Thome hit 171 homeruns and drove in 456 RBI. He's a solid infielder with a career batting average of .287. But ... isn't there always a "but" ... in those four seasons, he averaged more than 166 strikeouts. And in 2001, he struck out 185 times. Last season Thome cut the K's to 139, but it will be a new year and a new team. And he's not getting any younger.

In Cleveland, Thome was the foundation of an Indians' team that won its division in six of the last eight years.

In Cleveland, Thome was the foundation of an Indians' team that won its division in six of the last eight years. He is a great teammate. He's a gamer who comes to play, giving NL pitchers more reason to attack him. Pitchers have their own reputations to build and maintain; they'll relish the opportunity to show-up one of the game's best hitters. They'll show no mercy.

So the Thome deal is a crapshoot because there is no way to predict the outcome. Everyone knows money can't buy a team a championship. But money can help a team attain the players it needs to help it get there.

The bottom line is winning. And drawing on my own experiences, I can tell you that for all of the good and bad in the game, nothing compares to the feeling of winning a championship.

So, to answer my own question: Do I think it's worth the risk?

Hell yeah. But that's me -- and I'm a gambling man.

Former Cincinnati Reds reliever Rob Dibble is an ESPN baseball analyst and a co-host of "The Dan Patrick Show" on ESPN Radio. Dibble, who was co-MVP of the the 1990 NLCS, contributes regularly to ESPN.com.

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