Eric Thames has been a very popular player in Milwaukee since returning to the United States after a couple of seasons playing in Korea. He has put up 47 home runs with the Brewers since 2017 and has made his mark on the team and community.
All-Star Jesús Aguilar is firmly positioned at first base for the Brewers after a breakout season. This may make Thames more expendable as they try to optimize their roster for another October run. According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic (subscription required), Milwaukee might be looking to shed Thames’ contract.
With only one year left on the three-year contract he signed before the 2017 season, it would make sense for the Brewers to trade Thames and possibly acquire depth at another position.
Who specifically is looking for a first baseman? The Miami Marlins, that’s who!
With full squad spring training workouts just one month away, Peter O’Brien, Garrett Cooper and Pedro Álvarez are their other starting 1B options. O’Brien and Cooper each have limited experience in the majors—it is unknown if they can succeed under a heavy workload. The other option, Álvarez, has not had a productive season since 2016.
I put together a list of pros and cons for the Marlins to consider before engaging in any Thames-related negotiations with the Brewers.
Proven MLB veteran: Eric Thames has demonstrated the past two seasons that he can handle major league level pitching. Even spacious Marlins Park wouldn’t prevent him from hitting for power to all fields.
His plate discipline is also an important asset. Thames’ 12.5 percent walk rate since 2017 is the highest among all available first basemen.
Brings a veteran presence: Thames really prides himself on being part of his team’s community, not only making an impact in the city, but in the clubhouse as well. He would be popular with the fans during a non-contending 2019 campaign and a positive influence on developing players.
A reasonable salary: In the final year of his contract, Thames has a $6 million salary plus a $7.5 million player option for 2020 ($1 million buyout if he elects free agency). That’s plenty reasonable for a Marlins team that currently projects to have a much lower payroll than they did last summer. Even better, if Thames is effective during the first half of the season, Miami could shed the rest of their commitment and flip him for prospects at the trade deadline.
Marlins have to give up assets: Milwaukee isn’t moving Eric Thames for free. The Brew Crew would either be seeking prospects (that the Marlins are very protective of at this stage of the rebuild) or an impactful veteran at another position. Meanwhile, none of the remaining free-agent first basemen come with that obstacle.
Prone to injury: Thames has only played 234 of a possible 324 games for the Brewers. Some of that was strategically keeping him out the lineup versus left-handed pitching, but he also landed on the disabled list twice last season. He missed a week-and-a-half with hamstring tightness. Of greater concern, especially for a power hitter, a torn ulnar collateral ligament in Thames’ left thumb led to a 42-game absence (requiring surgery). How can the Marlins trust him to be available this year?
Could take opportunities away from other players: Even utilizing Thames in a platoon role would likely squeeze either O’Brien or Cooper off the Marlins active roster. The club must decide whether they value the immediate first base upgrade enough to limit their younger guys from getting major league reps.
Eric Thames would be a luxury for the Marlins and their fans because postseason contention is not a priority in 2019. He’s still worth considering depending on what he’d cost to acquire from the Brewers.