Almost four years to the day that he turned down a matching offer from the Toronto Blue Jays to sign with the Texas Rangers, free-agent John Thomson Tuesday agreed to terms on a one-year contract with the Blue Jays.
"It came down to us and the Rangers [before the 2003 season]and he liked Texas because it was closer to his home," Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi said after Thomson, a 33-year-old right-hander coming off a season shortened by shoulder inflammation and recurring blisters on his right middle finger, agreed to a contract worth $500,000 (all figures U.S.) plus incentives.
"Our doctors have given him a clean bill of health. He's just someone we can take a chance with."
The Blue Jays also signed middle reliever Jason Frasor, who will be given more responsibility this season after the departure of free-agent Justin Speier.
Frasor will make $825,000 and was one of five Blue Jays eligible for salary arbitration, along with Lyle Overbay, Alex Rios, Reed Johnson and Scott Downs.
The Blue Jays have had discussions with agents for all of the players, and in the case of Overbay have broached the possibility of a multiyear deal.
Overbay, who hit .312 with a career-high 22 home runs and 92 runs batted in last season after joining the club in a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers, made $2.525-million in 2006. He was fourth in the American League with 46 doubles and played a sound first base.
Thomson was 2-7 (4.82 earned-run average) last year with the Atlanta Braves, making 18 appearances (including 15 starts) before developing shoulder inflammation. He was 14-8 (3.72 ERA) in 2004 with the Braves, after going 13-14 with the Rangers in 2003.
Thomson signed with the Rangers for $1.3-million as a free agent, even though his agent - Chris Arnold - had been urging him to sign with the Blue Jays.
Thomson was 11-3 (2.79 ERA) in 23 starts from the 2004 All-Star Game break until suffering a tendon injury in May, 2005, on the same finger that gave him problems last year with blisters. The tendon injury caused him to miss three months in 2005.
Thomson's 2006 season did not start off poorly, with a 1.59 earned-run average in his first seven starts.
"Our doctors told us his shoulder situation was more or less just normal wear and tear for a guy his age," said Ricciardi, who is still scouring the ranks of lower-level free agents for additional arms to join Shaun Marcum, Casey Janssen, Dustin McGowan and Josh Towers in a spring training battle for the final two spots in the starting rotation.
"We lost 180 innings when [free agent]Ted Lilly left us. Maybe this guy can do for us what guys like [Shawn]Chacon, [Aaron]Small and [Kyle]Snyder did for the Yankees and Red Sox last year."
Ricciardi has been active over the holidays in testing the trade market for pitching. And while he vows to continue monitoring available starters, he indicated "most teams seem to be in a mode where they're getting ready for spring training, where they're dealing with their own arbitration-eligible guys."