Thomson feeling strong at Jays camp
Veteran right-hander ready for shot at starting rotation
DUNEDIN, Fla. -- John Thomson shook his head and let out the slightest chuckle. How could he not? Discussing the amount of money that flew into the bank accounts of many free-agent pitchers this offseason would be enough to make most people react in disbelief.Thomson's perspective is slightly different, though. The Blue Jays pitcher was also a free agent this offseason, but his situation forced him into the role of spectator during baseball's recent spending spree. Thomson isn't about to complain, because the incentive-based contract that Toronto handed him is providing the opportunity to win a starting job this spring -- not to mention a salary that's more than ample. The 33-year-old will admit, though, that it was tough to see so many pitchers receive such large deals. "Yeah, it was hard," said Thomson, standing outside the clubhouse doors at the Bobby Mattick Training Center on Saturday. "It just seems -- the way my career has gone -- every time the market for free-agent pitchers goes up as far as dollars, it seems like I'm already on a team or I got hurt." This time around, it was the latter. Thomson landed on the disabled list for more than two months last season with a shoulder injury. He finished 2-7 with a 4.82 ERA in just 18 games for the Braves and was hoping a team would offer him a fresh start this past winter. It wasn't until January that Thomson, who owns a 4.69 ERA for his career, was provided with two potential suitors: the Blue Jays and the Mets. The right-hander felt he was over his injury -- a relief appearance in late September restored that confidence. Thomson also understood that teams would probably be hesitant to sign him, because his word wasn't going to be enough. "I was kind of expecting that," said Thomson, referring to having just two teams express interest in him. "As much as you can talk and have your trainer talk and say that you're healthy and you're strong, when they can't see it, then it's a question in everybody's mind." Toronto had a need for rotation help and decided Thomson was worth the risk. The Jays signed Thomson to a base salary of $500,000, but he'll make $1.5 million if he makes the Opening Day roster. His salary could rise as high as $3.75 million if he makes as many as 34 starts this season.
Thomson plans on doing exactly that. In fact, he said that logging 200 innings and taking the mound 35 times is "a fair goal to set." First, though, he has to compete with Gustavo Chacin, Tomo Ohka, Josh Towers and Shaun Marcum for one of the final three spots in the rotation.It's the first time Thomson has been in this type of position battle since his first few years in the Majors. Now that he's a veteran, he feels he's better prepared for how to handle the situation. "Now I know what kind of pitcher I am," Thomson said. "I probably know more now than I did as a younger player -- that I don't have to go out there and blow it out the first start. I can go out there and just stay consistent. Like they say, you're not going to make the team the first week of Spring Training." Thomson said he's probably at about 80 percent arm strength entering this spring. He added that he used this past offseason to build up more endurance, as opposed to building more muscle. About the only difference in Thomson's winter routine was that he began throwing in December -- a month before he had in the past. Thomson is a realist, though. That's why his main goal for this spring is simply to maintain the good health he's experienced all offseason. If he can avoid injuries, Thomson feels making the roster shouldn't be a major issue. "No one can say for sure, 100 percent, that they're not going to break down," Thomson said. "I'm not going to say that, but I did what I had to do this offseason to come into Spring Training healthy and strong and ready to go." Shortly after Thomson signed with Toronto, former Jays reliever Justin Speier called manager John Gibbons. Speier knows Thomson well and wanted to offer his praise for Toronto's new addition. "I don't know a whole lot about him, but I've heard nothing but good things," Gibbons said. "Speier called me about him, because they're pretty good friends. He said, 'You'll love this guy. He's a workhorse. He competes. He does everything you want in a guy.'" What Toronto hopes to get from Thomson is innings and wins -- two things he feels he's more than capable of providing. In fact, Thomson said he wouldn't be surprised if he won as many or more games than some of the free agents who reeled in big-money contracts this winter. "No, it would not shock me at all," he said. If he's right, the Blue Jays got a bargain.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.