Last November, Brewer fans were somewhat surprised at the non-tender and subsequent release of NL homer champ Chris Carter, many were downright shocked by the signing of former major leaguer Eric Thames from the Korean Baseball Organization’s NC Dinos.
In two major league seasons with Baltimore and Seattle, Thames produced a slash line of .250/.296/.431, with 21 homers in 633 at bats (684 plate appearances). That’s a 162 game average of 32 doubles, 7 triples, and 19 homers. Not exactly an imposing presence in the lineup, but not horrible, either; certainly better than many first basemen that the Brewers have trotted out since the departure of Prince Fielder.
As we know, Thames blossomed into a star in the KBO. In three seasons overseas, Eric had 101 doubles, 14 triples, and 124 homers. He walked 235 times and stole 64 bases, including 40 in 2015. His OPS was 1.171. He became a folk hero in Korean baseball circles and grew an impressive beard.
At the Brewers On Deck event Sunday, Jan. 29th, manager Craig Counsell and principal owner Mark Attanasio were asked what to expect from Thames for the Brewers this year, and whether the Brewers would allow him to keep his beard. While Counsell said that Thames would of course have to prove himself, he seemed almost giddy in discussing how Thames was entering the “sweet spot” of his career, had adjustments in his hitting approach, and strides in his overall game while playing in Korea. The Brewers seem to expect Thames to earn his three year contract, and perhaps gain the fourth year option as well.
And Mark Attanasio made it clear that he liked the beard and of course it could stay. Good answer!
Projections for Thames vary, but Steamer sees him as a 2.5 fWAR player with 29 homers and 13 steals, with a .865 OPS. If he can accomplish that, the Brewers will appear to be set at first for the following three seasons as well.
Adam McCalvy of MLB.com went out of his way to bring up Thames during a round table Sunday afternoon, mentioning that he was an impressive man and that the Brewers had thought well outside the box in acquiring him.
So amidst all of the discussion of purchasing minor league teams, deciding what the starting rotation would be, figuring out what to do with Scooter Gennett, and meeting some most excellent Brewer prospects, it would be wise to remember that any success Milwaukee might have next season will require a relatively high level of production from Eric Thames.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs