The Orioles had just traded two minor leaguers for likely Hall-of-Fame slugger Jim Thome, who is expected to join the team here Sunday and be the club's regular, left-handed designated hitter. It's a straight trade, with the Orioles picking up the remainder of Thome's $1.25 million salary for 2012.
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After roughly a week of negotiations, the Orioles sent minor league catcher Gabriel Lino and right-handed pitcher Kyle Simon to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for the 41-year-old Thome, who has 609 career home runs, but has been relegated to a pinch-hitting role in the National League.
“Jim Thome is a real pro," said Orioles executive vice president Dan Duquette. "And he specializes in hitting home runs and getting on base. He has done that consistently. Beyond that, he is a terrific teammate, a steady presence and he is a veteran. He has been around the league and he has been in a pennant race and in the playoffs. I like all those things that he brings to our team. I think he gives us a little more depth to our lineup with the injuries to our left-handed hitters.”
In 30 games with the Phillies, he hit .242 with five homers and 15 RBIs and is a lifetime .277 hitter with a .402 career on-base percentage. He was 12-for-36 with four homers in nine interleague games as the Phillies' DH.
“You've got to look at this guy's presence. He's going to help in the lineup, he's going to protect some people in the lineup and he still can hit the ball out of the ballpark,” said Orioles first base coach Wayne Kirby, who played with Thome in Cleveland from 1991 to 1996. “And he comes from a National League team like Philly and doesn't play as much, then in interleague play he starts hitting.”
He's also considered one of the best character guys in the game.
"Class A. Goes about the game the right way. Professional,” Kirby said. “Treats everyone with respect, and he will help you.”
Thome's 1,689 RBIs are second most for any active player behind only New York's Alex Rodriguez and are 25th all-time. His next home run will break a tie with former Oriole Sammy Sosa for seventh all-time in that category.
So far this season, Showalter has eschewed having an everyday DH for using the spot among multiple players. Eight different Orioles have started at DH in 2012, with Chris Davis and the injured Nick Johnson making the most starts there — 19 each.
But, heading into Saturday, the Orioles' DHs were eighth in the AL in average, eighth in homers, 11th in RBIs and ninth in slugging percentage. Additionally, the team was hitting just .235 with a .296 on-base percentage against right-handed pitching — something Thome should improve.
“I think everybody in baseball has been a fan of Jim, the way he carries himself and conducts himself,” Showalter said. “The most important thing is, this is a guy that can help us with some things between the lines and outside the lines.”
Simon, the Orioles' fourth-round pick last season out of the Arizona, was 2-8 with a 3.96 ERA in 14 starts this season at High-A Frederick. A 21-year-old right-hander, Simon rebounded from a rough opening month with the Keys — he was 0-4 with a 5.61 ERA in five April starts — but is 2-4 with a 3.06 ERA in nine starts since. He was drafted by former Orioles' scouting director Joe Jordan, who is now the player development director with the Phillies.
The Orioles also were very high on Lino, a 6-foot-3 catcher out of Maracay, Venezuela — Showalter mentioned him as a promising player earlier this season. After hitting .282 in the Gulf Coast League last year, the 19-year-old Lino was promoted to Low-A Delmarva this season, where he was hitting .218 with 13 doubles, four homers and 18 RBI in 56 games.
“We thought that Thome's presence and our need for the Major League team were worth the value that we have to give up in a trade,” Duquette said. “We like both of the young players, they're both in A ball, and we need some help to bolster our (big-league) lineup.”
Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this article.