The Twins traded the veteran slugger to the Indians on Thursday for a player to be named, a day after the Indians claimed him on waivers. The Twins will make a corresponding roster move prior to Friday night's game against Tigers, and they have until Oct. 15 to receive a player from the Indians.
Thome, who was placed on waivers on Monday, accepted the trade, as he had a full no-trade clause as part of the one-year, $3 million contract he signed last offseason to remain in Minnesota after helping lead the club to the postseason last year with 25 homers in 108 games.
It marks a homecoming for Thome, who played in Cleveland for the first 12 years of his career, hitting .287 with a .982 OPS and 334 homers in 1,377 games.
"It's the right thing to do for Jim Thome," general manager Bill Smith said in a phone interview. "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."
Thome, 40, certainly fits a need for the Indians, who trail the first-place Tigers by 6 1/2 games in the American League Central. He'll slide right in as the club's designated hitter; Travis Hafner is on the disabled list with a strained tendon in the bottom of his right foot, and he could be out for the season.
"I think it's important to note that Jim had a choice," Indians general manager Chris 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. We're hopeful that he'll be able to join the team [Friday] in time for the game. We're still working through those logistics, but we expect that he'll be here [Friday]."
Thome, who has never won the World Series in his 21-year career, said in the past that he'd waive his no-trade clause to play for a contender, but he refused to talk about Cleveland's waiver claim after the Twins' 6-1 loss to the Orioles on Thursday.
"We talked about that the other day, and I have not [heard anything], so once I do, I'll talk about it," Thome said. "But until then, I don't think there's anything you can do but keep playing and do your job."
Smith acknowledged it was a tough decision for Thome to leave the Twin Cities, but that he decided to go to Cleveland based on a few key factors.
"He was torn," Smith said. "He really enjoyed his time here in Minnesota. I think at this point in Jim's career, he did it because of a combination of getting back into a pennant race and because he holds a special affinity for Cleveland. He started his career there, and had a lot great years there, so it's a good move for him at this time."
Thome has battled injuries this year with two stints on the disabled list, but he has remained a force at the plate when healthy, hitting .243 with a .351 on-base percentage and .476 slugging percentage in 71 games. The left-handed hitter has 12 homers and 60 RBIs in 206 at-bats.
Thome also reached the 600-home run plateau while with the Twins, crushing two blasts against the Tigers on Aug. 15 to become just the eighth player in baseball history to reach that mark.
"His march toward 600 home runs was a great thing to watch for all Twins fans," Smith said. "And we certainly wish him continued great success."
In just under two years with the Twins, Thome hit .266 with 37 homers and 99 RBIs in 178 games to quickly become a fan favorite in Minnesota.
"He's a leader and a winner," Smith said. "He's been a great influence on a lot of our younger players. Fans, players, coaches and front-office people -- everyone who has dealt with him -- acknowledges that he's one of the best people in the game of baseball."