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Philly opens the bank

Sources: Phillies sign free agent Thome to six-year deal

Posted: Monday December 02, 2002 3:02 PM
Updated: Tuesday December 03, 2002 5:11 PM
  Jim Thome Jim Thome will become the highest-paid player in Phillies history. Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Jim Thome, the most coveted hitter in the free-agent market, was introduced to Phillies' fans Tuesday after agreeing to an $85 million, six-year contract.

The 32-year-old first baseman gets a $10 million signing bonus, $9.5 million next year, $10.5 million in 2004, $11.5 million in 2005, $12.5 million in 2006 and $14 million in each of the final two seasons. The Phillies have a $13 million option for 2009 with a $3 million buyout.

The average annual value of $14,166,667 is the 15th highest in baseball.

The Phillies, unwilling to spend money in the past, are aggressively trying to improve as they prepare to move into their new ballpark in 2004.

Philadelphia agreed to a $17 million, four-year contract with third baseman David Bell on Nov. 24. The Phillies also have a $30 million, three-year offer out to free agent left-hander Tom Glavine, a two-time NL Cy Young award winner.

The Indians are going the other direction after a near decade of dominance in the AL Central, and Thome's departure followed those of Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez.

Belle left Cleveland after the 1996 season for a $55 million, five-year contract from the Chicago White Sox that made him baseball's highest-paid player at that time.

Ramirez got a $160 million, eight-year contract from the Boston Red Sox two years ago.

Thome, who hit a club-record 52 homers for the Indians last season, turned down a $60 million, five-year offer from the only team he has played for since he was a 13th-round pick in the 1989 amateur draft. The left-handed slugger has a .287 batting average, 334 homers and 927 RBIs in a 12-year major league career.

"Coming up in the Indians system, Jimmy was a guy everyone looked up to," Cleveland second baseman John McDonald said. "I always wanted to play next to him, and I'm just sorry I won't ever get a chance to do that again. I'm happy for Jimmy and his family, but I'm just really sorry for the Indians family."

Thome hit .304 with 118 RBIs, 122 walks and a .445 on-base percentage last season. He has hit at least 30 homers seven straight years and has driven in more than 100 runs in six of the last seven seasons.

While Bell takes over at third base from All-Star Scott Rolen, traded to St. Louis last summer, Thome replaces Rolen's power in the middle of a lineup that includes Bobby Abreu and Pat Burrell.

Thome's arrival signals the end of Travis Lee's time as Philadelphia's starting first baseman. Lee came to the Phillies in 2000 in the trade that sent Curt Schilling to Arizona.

Thome's departure leaves a big hole in the Cleveland's lineup and another one in the heart of Indians fans.

He was one of the most popular players in club history, and was recently given the Roberto Clemente Award, presented by the commissioner's office for charity work and community service.

The Indians won six division titles and went to the World Series twice during Thome's tenure. The Phillies, meanwhile, are coming off their 14th losing season in 16 years.

Thome began his career as a third baseman, but moved to first when the Indians acquired Matt Williams before the 1997 season. Thome hit 40 homers in 1997, 49 in 2001. Though he has had some back trouble, Thome has played at least 146 games in six of the last seven seasons.

Thome becomes the highest-paid player in Phillies history, and the most prolific free agent to sign with the team since Pete Rose joined them 24 years ago. Thome met with team officials and toured Philadelphia on Nov. 7, but waited nearly a month to make his decision.

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