"Jim is a Hall of Fame-caliber player and person," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We're thrilled to welcome Jim and his family back to Cleveland."
If there is any bitterness left over from Thome's departure nearly a decade ago, when he left Cleveland for Philadelphia after receiving a mammoth contract offer, Antonetti hopes Indians fans can find a way to bury the hatchet. When Thome settles into the batter's box at Progressive Field again, Antonetti wishes for one thing and one thing only.
"I genuinely hope that Jim is greeted with a standing ovation by our fans," he said. "In our minds, that's what he deserves."
Minnesota placed Thome on waivers on Monday, and Cleveland put in a claim on Wednesday, making a bid to bring him back to the city where his historic career began. The two sides had until Friday to finalize a trade, but Thome waived his no-trade clause and the deal came to fruition Thursday night.
Antonetti said that the Indians expect Thome to get to Cleveland in time to be in the lineup for Friday's game against the Royals at Progressive Field. He will wear No. 25 -- the same number he wore during his first tour with the ballclub.
Thome will not be able to play every day, but Antonetti said the Indians -- still alive in the race for the American League Central title and in need of offense -- will work him into the lineup as much as possible.
"We will certainly have to manage his playing time," Antonetti said. "We will work in concert with Jim to determine what that right balance is."
Cleveland and Minnesota have until Oct. 15 to reach an agreement on which player will join the Twins organization to complete the trade. Antonetti noted that the Twins will have the ability to choose from a "relatively narrow" list of players.
This deal, though, was hardly about who is heading to Minnesota.
"It's the right thing to do for Jim Thome," Twins general manager Bill Smith said. "It sends him back home, where he started his career and puts him back in a pennant race. We were absolutely thrilled to have him in our organization for the past two years."
The 40-year-old Thome's no-trade protection was part of the one-year, $3 million contract he signed with the Twins before this season. The left-handed slugger is owed roughly $500,000 for the remainder of the year, making him an affordable addition for a Cleveland club that is currently without its designated hitter.
Cleveland's DH and cleanup hitter, Travis Hafner -- who considered Thome a role model as he was coming up through the Minors -- is on the disabled list with a strained tendon in the bottom of his right foot and might be done for the season. That made this as good a time as any to bring Thome back into the fold.
"Once Travis got hurt," Antonetti said, "that certainly made it a more clear fit for Jim on our team and increased the potential impact he could have."
Thome has certainly made an impact for the Tribe in the past.
Thome was selected by the Indians in the 13th round of the 1989 First-Year Player Draft, and he debuted with the Tribe at the age of 20 in 1991. Thome went on to spend a dozen seasons with the Indians, launching a franchise-record 334 home runs and making three All-Star teams.
Beyond his franchise homer mark, Thome also ranks first in Indians history with 997 walks. On the club's all-time list, Thome ranks second in RBIs (927), third in extra-base hits (613), slugging percentage (.567) and on-base percentage (.414), fourth in total bases (2,633) and fifth in runs scored (917).
"This is a very unique opportunity to bring back a guy of Jim's stature," Antonetti said. "It's a great opportunity for us organizationally, to bring a guy like Jim back to the organization, because he has meant so much to it."
This was a chance for Thome, who recently became only the eighth player in Major League history to hit 600 home runs, to potentially finish his career where it started. In doing so, he might also find some forgiveness from a fan base that has not forgotten his comments prior to entering free agency after the 2002 season.
Apparently, the Phillies found a way to rip Thome's jersey off his body.
After launching a single-season club record of 52 home runs in the 2002 tour, Thome penned his name on a six-year contract worth $85 million with Philadelphia. Thome spent three seasons slugging for the Phillies before spending stints with the White Sox, Dodgers and Twins.
In 71 games for the Twins this season, Thome has hit .243 with 12 homers and 40 RBIs.
Thome might have preferred to land with a more clear contender like the Phillies, considering the Indians have lost six of their past seven games and are 6 1/2 games behind the first-place Tigers in the American League Central. Jumping from the Twins to a playoff-bound club would not have been a simple process, though.
If Thome had blocked a trade, he would likely have remained with the Twins for the remainder of the season.
The only other option would be for Minnesota to pull Thome off revocable waivers -- voiding the Indians' claim -- before placing him on release waivers. Under that scenario, Thome could have rejected claims by every team until reaching a club he preferred to join, but he would also be required to forfeit the rest of his salary for this season.
Such an approach would likely also create some backlash from other clubs.
It was also extremely unlikely in this particular situation.
This was a chance for Thome to once again put on the jersey and hat of the team he will likely represent if he is one day enshrined in baseball's Hall of Fame.
"It's important to note that Jim had a choice," Antonetti said. "Ultimately, he decided to come back to Cleveland. He certainly could've remained in Minnesota or he potentially could've even pursued other options, but Jim chose to come back to Cleveland.
"We're elated that he did."
Not only because of what Thome is capable of doing on the diamond, either.
"Even if he wasn't a baseball player that's hit 600 home runs," Antonetti said, "he should be celebrated for the man that he is. I'm hopeful and confident that our fans will embrace him now that he's again wearing an Indians uniform."