When I received a message this morning asking if I'd like to cover the Eric Thames signing, I was overcome with excitement.
Had the Blue Jays done the very thing I'd been clamouring for for seasons now? Had the organization made yet another seemingly innocuous move, much in the way of J.A Happ, Marco Estrada, Devon Travis, Jose Bautista, and Edwin Encarnacion (on differing levels, of course...), that had potential to become an absolute homerun? Or, at very least, not a complete albatross.
The answer, as I soon found out, was no. They hadn't.
The Milwaukee Brewers announced they have signed 1B Eric Thames to a three year, $16M contract that breaks down to 4M-5M-6M with a 1M buyout of a 4th year option as well as 500K incentives for PA's (via Ken Rosenthal).
It’s also a guaranteed 15M and reportedly they cannot send him down to the minors without consent. He’ll also receive a small bonus if traded.
At its core the Brewers signing of Thames is, to me, a brilliant move. You'll hear the term "risk-free" thrown around a lot, and perhaps this is just that. Or, perhaps it's more closely akin to a lottery ticket.
This is a move from a smaller market team trying to find value from, though perhaps not completely unorthodox places, at very least relatively untapped (with few exceptions).
Taking a once failed MLB prospect who, instead of spending the last 3-years middling around the MLB or in the minors, went to Korea to continue his career. And what he found was massive success in the process (.348, 124HR, 379 RBI, and 64 SB over three seasons). Bringing him back over with, by baseball standards, a cheap contract, to see if he's found his game is a smart play for an organization. Especially in a heavily RHH lineup needing a LHH Power Bat, which Thames should provide.
The development of his game and how it will translate to the MLB is unknown. There are no mental gymnastics needed on this one. You don’t need to research park factors or surmise what a change in division or league (AL to NL or visa versa) could do. This version of Eric Thames is not all that closely related to the Eric Thames that played 181 games in two Big League seasons in 2011-12 amassing 21 HR, 85 RBI, and a -0.1 WAR.
This is, for all intents and purposes, a new player. An older, more matured played who has seen incredible success over the last three years playing away from the eyes of the MLB world.
This is the kind of 5M lottery ticket you want to fill a position of need.
As opposed to spending 11M/yr on an aging DH type with a 3-year combined 0.8 WAR, or 4.1M/yr on a 1B-DH type with a 3-year combined 0.1 WAR. Known commodities that are known replacement level... As an example. Just a random example...
The risk, if there is one, is that Thames will not be able to translate his Korean ball success back to the MLB. And should this be the case then nothing is ultimately lost. He may only potentially be a replacement level player or less. This is fair. We can’t know. But, some teams spend the same amount or more knowing replacement level is all they are getting.
However, should he manage to bring some of his success over, he'll be the type of feel-good story Disney loves to cram down our collective throats every few years. (Someone contact Donald Glover for the role of Eric! Quick, before he signs on for three more Star Wars and Marvel movie where he'll play Miles Morales... we hope...)
And that is what Milwaukee is paying for. The lottery ticket. The chance for greatness. Or, at very least, goodness. Where other teams might hunker down on the known commodities, teams like Milwaukee need to take a bigger leap of faith. The Blue Jays have done that in recent years, and this feels like a missed opportunity to buy the lottery ticket and hope for something more.
If Disney has taught me anything, the Brewers might just be in for a great story.
(Also, as a final aside, Eric Thames’ beard game is strong! 10/10 beard, old friend.)