The A’s sign the first baseman Eric Thames to a minor-league contract, reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (on twitter). For the 35-year-old, who hails from San Jose, it’s a homecoming of sorts.
Thames has appeared in the big leagues for parts of six seasons. He debuted with the Blue Jays in 2011 and split the following season between Toronto and the Mariners. Thames didn’t make it back to the majors in 2013, instead spending the year in Triple-A with the M’s and Orioles. In the 2013-14 off-season, the left-hander made the leap to South Korea and signed with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization.
It was a masterful pick-up for the dinosaurs, for whom Thames became an instant superstar. He spent three seasons with the Changwon-based club hitting 37 or more home runs each with an OPS north of 1,100. The KBO was a hitter-friendly league, but Thames’ production was outrageous, even after putting it in context. That was especially true in 2015, when Pepperdine University’s product scored .381/.497/.790 with 47 home runs and 40 stolen bases. That performance on the plate was an incredible 116 points above the KBO league average as measured by wRC+ and he was named MVP that year.
After dominating in the KBO, Thames was targeting a return to the majors. He was a high-profile target during the 2016-17 offseason, eventually landing a three-year, $16 million guarantee with the Brewers. Milwaukee saw a solid return on this investment as Thames continued to produce at above-average levels with the Brew Crew (though nowhere near its otherworldly KBO numbers).
He hit 31 homers and had a .247/.359/.518 aggregate over 551 plate appearances in his return season. That would be his most productive year in Milwaukee, although his combined line of .236/.331/.495 from 2018-19 was still 12 points above average (112 wRC+). Thames was increasingly struggling with strikeouts, but he also recorded many walks and proved a consistent threat to power.
After his contract with the Brewers expired, Thames signed a one-year guarantee with the Nationals which also included a club option for 2021. He stumbled to a .203/.300/.317 mark during the shortened season and Washington bought him out. Thames made the leap back to Asia last winter – this time to Japan – and signed with the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball. Unfortunately, he tore his Achilles tendon in his first game with the Giants and missed the rest of the season.
Thames is now returning to connected ball and is hoping to earn his way back into the majors. He’ll likely get a chance to report to MLB spring training and compete for a spot on an A-roster that could be in flux. Matt Olson is a potential trade candidate as Oakland reportedly seeks to cut payroll costs after the lockout. Even if Olson stays around, Thames could work his way into the designated hitter or corner outfield mix. Mitch Moreland and jed lowrie claimed the majority of DH playing time last season, but both are free agents. Seth Brown and Chad Pinder might be considered for DH-At bats, but they seem likely to replace a left field move Markus Canha at this moment.