Time to spend Bruce Sherman’s and Derek Jeter’s money! Entering the third year under new Marlins ownership, fans expect to see significant improvement at the major league level. Some of that improvement will surely come from within, but prospects—as they say—will break your heart. Successful MLB rebuilds make sure to surround their young cores with veterans who can bring credibility and reliable production. Free agent additions figure to be critically important to keeping the Fish on track.
To date, the largest investment that the Sherman/Jeter Marlins have made in any free agent was $5.25 million for Cuban outfielder Víctor Víctor Mesa. “Deep Sea Fishing” is a series of profiles on established, available players—all of them projected to cost more than Víctor Víctor—who should be seriously considered by the front office.
2019 team(s): Brewers
2019 salary: $6 million
2020 season age: 33
Marlins connection? None. Last winter, our own Christian Cevallos weighed the pros and cons of trading for Eric Thames. But Milwaukee reportedly never came close to dealing him away; the Marlins signed Neil Walker in free agency to handle a comparable role on their roster.
Why the Marlins should want him
It came as a moderate surprise that the Brew Crew declined Thames’ $7.5 million club option for 2020. Instead, they are paying him a $1 million buyout. General manager David Stearns spoke bluntly about how the option price was not in line with the market rate for other older first base/corner outfield types. (via Adam McCalvy, MLB.com).
Keep in mind that the Brewers viewed Thames strictly as a platoon player—86.5% of his plate appearances in 2019 came against right-handed pitching. An offense-deficient team like the Marlins, on the other hand, would have an expanded role available.
Despite being limited to 459 plate appearances, Thames homered 25 times last season. That’s more than any Marlins player has in either of the first two rebuilding campaigns! The majority of those dingers exceeded 400 feet and the shortest of the 25 was estimated at 358 feet. Spacious Marlins Park shouldn’t have much of an effect on his output.
Thames revitalized his baseball career as a sensation in the Korea Baseball Organization, returning to the U.S. in 2017. In each year since then, he’s posted a walk rate of at least 10% while averaging more than four pitches per plate appearance. The Marlins last season ranked dead last in the National League in both categories.
Underneath his bulging muscles, Thames is enthusiastic and approachable for teammates and media. There’s somewhat of a leadership void in Miami with the departures of Martin Prado and Curtis Granderson that he could help fill. (And no, he has never flunked any of MLB’s drug tests.)
Eric Thames was drug tested again tonight. "If people keep thinking I'm on stuff, I'll be here every day. I have a lot of blood and urine." pic.twitter.com/De1smFWVj7— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) April 26, 2017
If we trust David Stearns’ read of the market, Thames will not have the leverage to command more than one guaranteed year on a free agent deal. The Marlins would be able to add him in 2020 while maintaining the flexibility to cut ties afterward if top prospects like Jesús Sánchez and/or Lewin Díaz demonstrate that they’re ready for The Show.
Why the Marlins might not get him
Thames famously burst onto the scene at the beginning of his Brewers contract with massive production in March/April 2017. But this is a very streaky player who is prone to extended stretches where he struggles to put balls in play. Solid as the former seventh-round draft pick was in 2019 (.247/.346/.505, 116 wRC+, 1.9 fWAR), he’s just a year removed from an underwhelming, injury-riddled 2018 (.219/.306/.478, 105 wRC+, 0.9 fWAR).
Also, the Brewers remain open to the possibility of re-signing Thames at an amount below $6.5 million. How much would the Marlins need to overpay to woo him?
Fish Stripes estimates an 8% chance of the Marlins signing Eric Thames this offseason.
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