But the Phillies say they did not agree to pay Thome $1.25 million to fill in at first base in 2012, when Ryan Howard could start the season on the disabled list while finishing his recovery from surgery to repair a ruptured Achilles' tendon. In a perfect world, he will be able to whip his 41-year-old body into shape this offseason and knock off enough rust in spring training to fill in on a limited basis. Regardless, the Phillies signed Thome for two reasons: his powerful lefthanded bat, something that was lacking on the bench last season, and his magnetic charm, which made him a fan-favorite in Philadelphia for three seasons.
"Everyone knows my relationship with Jimmy," said Phillies manager Charlie Manuel, who was his hitting coach in Cleveland and has remained close to the slugger ever since. "But he's not here because of that. He's here to contribute to our team in a positive way, both on and off the field."
The question is, how much will he able to contribute? And will those opportunities be worth the salary and roster spot that Thome will occupy?
The answer is hardly make-or-break. The Thome signing is only the first in what is expected to be an active offseason for a Phillies team that led the majors with 102 wins but suffered a playoff loss to the eventual world champions for a second season in a row. Thome's introductory news conference had not even ended before attention began to shift toward the next item on the Phillies' agenda, which several reports have suggested is the acquisition of power-hitting free agent jack-of-all trades Michael Cuddyer.
Thome spent two seasons with Cuddyer in Minnesota, where they developed a strong bond. On Saturday, he vouched for his buddy, admitting they had talked about the Phillies while declining to gauge the likelihood of a deal. Like Thome, Cuddyer would be signed more for his bat and makeup than the existence of a defined defensive role. Cuddyer, a rightfielder, has only started three games in his career in leftfield, which is three more games than current Phillies rightfielder Hunter Pence has started. He has also played first and third, positions where his bat would fit given Howard's uncertain health and Placido Polanco's injury history.
Assuming Howard returns within the first couple months of the season, the bulk of Cuddyer's playing time would likely come at the corner outfield positions and at third, although the 13 games he started at third in 2010 represent the only action he has seen at the position since 2005.
The defensive drop off at third base would be significant. Polanco is a bona fide Gold Glover. Cuddyer, meanwhile, spends most of his time in the outfield for a reason. Regardless of where he ends up, he would provide an upgrade. He is regarded as a professional hitter who does many of the things the Phillies are looking for: he hits well with two strikes and sees a lot of pitches while carrying solid if not spectacular contact, strikeout and walk rates.
He is also an intense player who the Phillies feel would bring the attitude they are looking for to their lineup. His presence would enable the Phillies to bracket Howard, when healthy, with a pair of righthanded power hitters.
"All I can say about Michael is that he's a great player," Thome said. "He's a winner. He's a stand-up guy. I know he's done a lot of great things on and off the field in Minnesota. He's played there a long time. I think anybody who plays in that organization for a long time, their credibility is instantly high, because they've won themselves. I think any team that is going to get him is going to gain because of what he brings to the table. He's a great teammate. I would put him in my Top Five favorite teammates, no question, he's up there. He's a winner. He loves to play the game."
At the same time, Cuddyer has spent his entire career in Minnesota. Signing with the Phillies would mean leaving a place where he has an established comfort zone in his role with the team and his role in the community.
Thome declined to provide a gauge of his buddy's interest in joining the Phillies.
"I can't answer that," he said. "I knew you'd ask that. Look, I think every player that sees the way the Phillies have done things over the last 7-8 years, they've set the bar. They've set the bar very high. I think guys around baseball would love to come here. They've won, and when you win, you create a lot of good things."
Which is why Thome himself chose to return. He could have signed with a team in the American League, where he has performed almost exclusively as a designated hitter over the last six seasons. But his desire to return to the Phillies was mutual.
All parties involved wanted the reunion to occur last August, but the Phillies were last in waiver priority and thus at the mercy of other clubs. In the end, Thome landed in Cleveland.
In 2012, he will be with a familiar team in an unfamiliar role. Over the last 3 years, he is 15-for-63 with six extra-base hits, eight walks and 30 strikeouts in 72 pinch-hit plate appearances. This season, Ross Gload was 19-for-75 with five extra-base hits, two walks and 18 strikeouts in 77 pinch-hit plate appearances.
The move will require Thome to adapt to a new role and the Phillies to surround him with a bench that can make up for his defensive inability.
Whatever happens, one thing is clear: It has the potential to be a hell of a story.
Dan Duquette has signed a 3-year contract to become the Orioles' president of baseball operations, according to reports. He replaces Andy MacPhail, who stepped down last month. Among the candidates interviewed was Phillies assistant general manager Scott Proefrock, who spent 3 years as Baltimore's director of baseball administration before joining the Phillies after the 2008 season.
For more Phillies coverage and opinion, read David Murphy's blog, High Cheese, at www.philly.com/HighCheese. Follow him on Twitter at