11/17/06 4:55 PM ET
Big signing: Jays ink Thomas
Two-year contract includes option for 2009 season
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
"Honestly, he's a guy we've always liked, but we didn't think we'd have a chance at a guy like this," said Ricciardi, speaking from his home in Worcester, Mass., on Friday. "We thought it was pretty cut and dry that he was going to go back to Oakland."
That was until Thomas expressed interest in the Blue Jays. That got Ricciardi thinking about how much more prolific his offense could be with the 6-foot-5, 275-pound slugger swinging from the cleanup spot. Now, The Big Hurt is heading north.
Toronto officially announced Friday that it had signed Thomas to a two-year deal worth $18 million that includes a vesting option for 2009. The two-time American League Most Valuable Player is scheduled to make $9 million in each of the next two seasons.
The option year is contingent on Thomas reaching 1,050 plate appearances over the next two years or 525 plate appearances in the second year of the contract. If he reaches those marks, Ricciardi said he'd have no issues with bringing Thomas back for a third season.
Last winter, Thomas signed with the A's after spending 16 seasons with the White Sox. Recent injuries made it hard for Thomas to find a suitor, so he signed an incentive-laden contract with a base salary of $500,000 with Oakland. He then made around $3 million with the incentive bonuses.
"He really enjoyed himself in Oakland and I think it was tough for him to say that he was going to go away from them," Ricciardi said. "He liked a lot of things there, but I think he likes our situation in the sense of what we're capable of doing."
With Thomas, Toronto is capable of becoming an even better offensive threat than it was in 2006, when it ranked second in the Majors with a .463 slugging percentage. The Jays also ranked third in the Majors with a .284 team batting average, and they finished fourth in the American League with 199 home runs.
The production out of the DH spot wasn't as impressive, though. Five players split the majority of the time in that role for Toronto, and all DHs combined for just 17 home runs. Last year with Oakland, Thomas hit 39 homers -- his most since 2003 -- and he drove in 114 RBIs. Both totals would've led the Jays.
"It was a chance for us to really define that role with one guy," Ricciardi said. "This really makes our lineup pretty potent and one of the best in the American League."
Over 17 seasons, including 16 in Chicago, Thomas has hit .305 with 487 home runs, 458 doubles and 1,579 RBIs. The two-time AL Most Valuable Player currently ranks 23rd in baseball history in home runs, and he is just 13 shy of becoming just the 21st player to reach 500 long balls in a career.
Ricciardi acknowledged that Thomas comes with some risk, though. A serious ankle injury limited Thomas to 108 games with the White Sox in the 2004-05 seasons, though the ailment wasn't a problem last year. In fact, his production helped him garner the AL Comeback Player of the Year Award from the MLB Players Association.
Even so, Thomas underwent a physical with one of Toronto's team doctors in Florida before signing the new contract. The club also had its own medical staff look over reports and have discussions with the doctors who worked on Thomas' foot.
"We didn't go into this thing without our eyes open," Ricciardi said. "We did all the medical background we could. We've done everything that we possibly can to make sure that there's enough medical clearance on our end to go forward with this."
Now, the only thing that remains to be seen is how Toronto goes forward this winter. With Thomas on the roster, a payroll increase will be necessary to meet Ricciardi's other offseason goals. The Jays are also in the market for a starter, a middle infielder, a catcher and possibly some bullpen help.
Toronto hasn't officially announced its 2007 payroll, but it's been speculated that it could reach $95 million. The Jays entered the offseason with a payroll estimated to be around $80 million, including roughly $12.5 million to spend on free agents. Toronto may be able to reveal its payroll in the next 10 days or so.
"The budget hasn't been finalized," said Blue Jays president and CEO Paul Godfrey. "We have some basic guidelines of where it's going to be, but I'm not at liberty to give the number now. The board of directors has to approve it before we can go public with the number."
Ricciardi didn't sound too worried that adding Thomas would significantly hinder Toronto's remaining tasks. Once the payroll is set, that will become more clear, though.
"We've got some room to play with," Ricciardi said. "We'll see as we get involved with other players what their cost is going to be. At that point, we'll have a better idea of how what we paid Frank takes away from the other things."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.