Marcus Thames signs with Dodgers
In a move that could well complete their offseason roster tinkering, the Los Angeles Dodgers finalized their one-year, $1 million agreement with free agent outfielder Marcus Thames on Tuesday after Thames passed a physical examination. The deal also contains up to $800,000 in performance bonuses based primarily on playing time, but in order to maximize those, Thames would have to vastly exceed the 237 plate appearances he had for the New York Yankees last year.
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Thames, who will turn 34 during spring training, will share time in left field with some combination of Tony Gwynn Jr., Jay Gibbons and Xavier Paul. But Gwynn, Gibbons and Paul all are left-handed hitters, so Thames figures to get almost all of the starts against left-handed pitchers. He also could fill in for lefty-hitting James Loney at first base.
"He gives us a right-handed bat in the outfield and in platoon-type situations," Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said. "We told him we really needed him against left-handed pitching, and there is a lot of it in our division. I'm sure [manager] Donnie [Mattingly] will ride the hot bat if he is doing well, and he will see some action against right-handed pitching as well."
The Dodgers also finalized their signing of free-agent outfielder Gabe Kapler, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley and attended Taft High of Woodland Hills, Calif., to a minor league contract. Kapler will be invited to big league spring training, where he will compete for a roster spot, but he'll be the longest of long shots in what already is a crowded outfield.
Thames hit a career-high .288 and posted a career-best .350 on-base percentage for the Yankees last season. He has a career .248 average in nine big league seasons, all of them in the American League. He hit a career-high 26 homers for the Detroit Tigers in just 390 plate appearances in 2006, but he hit just 12 home runs and drove in 33 runs last season.
Thames also has a career average of .297 as a pinch hitter, with five homers and 15 RBIs in 87 plate appearances.
"Except for Gibbons, we really didn't have the type of bat who could come off the bench and change the game with one swing," Colletti said. "He obviously is able to do that."
Although Colletti said he is keeping his eyes open for one more reliever, he also said once again that he is comfortable going to spring training with the roster the Dodgers currently have in place, a clear indication the team might be finished for the winter except for possibly signing another player or two to minor league deals.
Along those lines, Kapler, 35, accepted a contract that didn't include the escape clause that is fairly common when major league veterans sign minor league deals. But that doesn't necessarily mean he would accept an assignment to Triple-A Albuquerque if he were to fail to win a spot on the Dodgers' Opening Day roster.
Kapler, who hit .210 in 59 games for the Tampa Bay Rays last season, retired once before (after the 2006 season), so it wouldn't be terribly surprising if he were to do so again at the end of spring training if the Dodgers didn't have a spot for him. However, his reputation as a positive clubhouse influence probably had a strong bearing on the Dodgers' interest in bringing him in for at least a look.
A 12-year veteran, Kapler has compiled a career average of .268 with six teams. Virtually his entire career has been spent as a backup outfielder, and he has compiled as many as 500 plate appearances in a season just once, with the Texas Rangers in 2001.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.