MLB Hot Stove: Brewers agree to three-year deal with Eric Thames
Thames was previously unproductive in MLB, but had a monster three years in Korea
In what seems tantamount to a corresponding move to the non-tender of slugger Chris Carter, the Milwaukee Brewers have agreed to a three-year deal with free-agent slugger Eric Thames, the club announced. There's also a club option for 2020. Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports the three-year deal is worth more than $15 million, so the guess is that the deal is in that ballpark.
Thames is an intriguing case and R.J. Anderson recently laid out why.
After two years in the majors with the Blue Jays and Mariners, the lefty-swinging Thames owned a career slash line of .250/.296/.431 (96 OPS+). He was of so little help in the outfield corner spots that he posted a negative WAR. In 684 plate appearances, Thames struck out 175 times while walking only 38.
He did club 36 doubles, eight triples and 21 homers in slightly more than a season's worth of plate appearances, though, so there definitely was some power potential. In 2013, Thames spent all his time in the minors.
Then Thames took his game to Korea Baseball Organization. Here's what he did in his three seasons.
So the competition level isn't considered on par with the majors and the stolen base total in 2015 probably was an aberration. Still, this is ridiculous production, especially in 2015. He even fixed his plate discipline numbers, walking more than he struck out in 2015.
There have been examples of players going from MLB overseas and then returning to a productive career, with Cecil Fielder perhaps being the most prominent. Fielder departed MLB in his mid-20s like Thames and was hitting .243/.308/.472 with 31 career homers in 558 plate appearances at the time. He'd hit 288 homers in nine years after coming back, including an MLB-best 51 in 1990 and 44 in 1991.
Of course, things are different now, but many believe the level of competition in Japan and Korea is vastly superior to that time period.
Sure, Thames still carries risk, but roughly $5 million a year for his possible upside is a good gamble for a small-market team like the Brewers. Also keep in mind Thames has MLB experience and -- before his stint in South Korea -- lived his whole life in America (born and raised in California). So he won't have to go through the culture shock most other players coming from KBO or NPB (Japan's Nippon Professional Baseball) experience.
Here's an interesting tidbit:
Brewers' gamble on Eric Thames is a fascinating one. All of their scouting was done via video of his games in Korea.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) November 29, 2016
Perhaps some of the scouting involved seeing his 47 homers in 2015, which can be viewed here (I would embed it, but it's over a half hour long).
Thames has been playing first base in KBO, so he should slot right into Carter's vacated spot, giving the Brewers a subject-to-change top four that could look like this on Opening Day:
The offseason is young, though.
For now, Brewers have a reasonably priced high-power-upside addition to the middle of their order.