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Thome dilemma a matter of at-bats

Thome dilemma a matter of at-bats

CHICAGO -- By the time Ozzie Guillen and his family leave from SoxFest for Miami sometime on Sunday evening, he believes the White Sox should have a decision in place concerning Jim Thome and a 2010 roster fit.

The fact that Thome remains in play for the White Sox, despite Guillen's expressed desire to go with a designated hitter-by-committee, represents a deeper interest than Thome's obvious Hall of Fame power and vast on-base contributions. It's a testament to the deep bond forged between the veteran slugger and the White Sox organization.

"Like I said the other day, I wish I hated this guy," said Guillen with a laugh, speaking to the media following Saturday morning's Town Hall Meeting in the Red Lacquer Room of the Palmer House Hilton. "I wish I could tell Kenny [Williams, GM], 'I don't want to have him on my brain, and I don't want to talk about it.' But Jimmy is so special, and that's why we still talk about bringing him back."

"Jim will always be a member of the White Sox family," said Williams, pointing out how the organization continues to be the premier sponsor for the Joyce Thome Benefit for Children's Hospital of Illinois in Peoria.

Williams acknowledged conversations between the team and Thome, as he spoke to the fans during Saturday's Town Hall Meeting. Guillen also talked to Thome on Thursday night, and Guillen and Williams talked extensively on Friday morning about the possibilities of bringing back the 39-year-old prolific slugger.

A primary sticking point in the collective mind of the organization is making sure this situation works at optimum efficiency, both on the White Sox end and for Thome.

"Right now, the only reason that holds me up with our conversation about Jimmy is I don't know how many at-bats we can give him," said Guillen. "It's not fair for Jim or the ballclub to go with that.

"You are in or you are not. It's not like we can go to Jimmy and say he is playing every day and then change our mind. I want to walk through the clubhouse with my head up and look at people the right way. I don't want to go in the clubhouse and avoid Jimmy because he's not playing.

"That's why we have to make it clear with the situation on both sides," Guillen said. "Sometimes when you think with your heart, you make the wrong decision. In baseball, you have to think with your head."

Guillen made it clear Saturday that Thome would not be added on as a full-time DH but instead would join Mark Kotsay, Andruw Jones and Jayson Nix in the DH mix, not to mention the days when Carlos Quentin or Paul Konerko slide to that lineup slot. As has been mentioned previously, the addition of Thome would mean the White Sox would start the season with 11 pitchers, an option that doesn't seem certain with Guillen's desire to play matchup baseball late in games.

Dropping one pitcher leads to the White Sox carrying either a second left-handed hurler, meaning Scott Linebrink and/or Tony Pena would work in middle relief, or a middle reliever/spot starter and Matt Thornton serving as the lone bullpen southpaw. Both options could not be filled with 11 pitchers.

"I always like 13," said Guillen with a laugh, who clearly won't carry that elevated total. "But we talk about it, [pitching coach Don Cooper], Kenny and me, and the way we deal with pitchers, the way we should do it. I always like 12, but if the scenario goes early in the season where we can go with 11, I'll take it into consideration.

"In my mind, it's 12. Maybe that will change in Spring Training."

Actually, the White Sox have just three days off during April, and they play 12 straight games after an April 6 break. That schedule would lend itself to the extra reliever, even with a top-flight rotation in place.

This decision will be made soon, though, moreso in deference to Thome, who has other teams interested in his services.

"We don't care about us, but that's not fair for Jimmy," said Guillen of possibly stringing along this decision another month until Spring Training. "You wait and wait and wait, and all of a sudden, we say, 'We need you, so come here.' We should make a decision before I leave for Miami tomorrow."

Scott Merkin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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