Everyone loves a good old-fashioned reunion … and there’s one reunion which Blue Jays fans have been dreaming about for years.
The Blue Jays have a huge hole at first base, and with the market flush with 1B/DH types, there are plenty of options they could use to fill that void, but none perhaps more intriguing that one of their former farmhands.
The man who was essentially pitted against Travis Snider to begin the 2012 season – who was then traded for Steve Delabar – and soon found himself on the other side of the world playing for the NC Dinos: Eric Thames.
After spending the past three years of posting video game-like numbers in Korea, Eric Thames may look to return to home soil in 2017. The million dollar question, though … do the Blue Jays want him?
Thames is a much different player now than he was back in 2012. During his days in the Major Leagues, Eric Thames never OPS’d higher than .769. But the past three seasons in Korea, Thames has OPS’d 1.111, 1.288 and 1.101 respectively.
Admittedly, the Korean Baseball League is a much different animal than MLB, as the KBO is notoriously an extreme hitter’s league. But that kind of power (not to mention Thames’ sudden burst of speed on the base paths) is hard to ignore.
Eric Thames wouldn’t be the first player to transition from the KBO to MLB; Hyun Soo Kim had a fairly successful rookie season with the Orioles in 2016, as did Dae-ho Lee with the Mariners. Jung Ho Kang has been a revelation for the Pirates the past two seasons.
Byung Ho Park with the Twins? Not so much. But with three years and only $8.5 million dollars remaining on the deal, it’s such a value deal that the Twins could eat the rest of that contract and be alright with it.
But Eric Thames has the distinction of being a former MLB player who found success abroad and is looking to find his second wind in the big leagues.
That makes Eric Thames a huge wild card. Anybody making the transition from the Korean Baseball League would be a wild card as is, but there are many more questions about Thames than the typical playing looking to make the leap from Japan or Korea to MLB.
And would the Blue Jays be willing to hand a starting job to Eric Thames outright? To make the deal worthwhile, he’d almost have to play everyday to get acclimated to Major League pitching again. Riding the bench as a utility player wouldn’t serve much of a benefit.
As cool of a story as it would be to bring back Eric Thames to the Blue Jays and as fun as it is to navel gaze, the more I think about it, the more it looks like he wouldn’t be an ideal fit for the Jays.
As mentioned, Thames would need to play first base everyday; a Smoakabello-style platoon with Justin Smoak wouldn’t make much sense, as both Thames and Smoak punish right-handed pitching (or at the very least, they hit righties for power).
Secondly, there’s an unmistakable volatility which comes with bringing back a former MLB player. Sure, Eric Thames found great success in the KBO, but will his skillset translate on a team like the Toronto Blue Jays?
A team where he has a lot more breathing room, away from the bright lights of high expectations – somewhere like Tampa Bay Rays, Pittsburgh Pirates or Colorado Rockies feels like the ideal home for Eric Thames.
A move like that would be the quintessential Tampa Bay Rays signing, although Tampa Bay already has a slugging first baseman in Brad Miller. So somewhere like Colorado might be a more desirable landing spot for Thames, and moving to a hitter-friendly park would negate any KBO drop-off.
Suffice it to say that Eric Thames wouldn’t be afforded a long leash, especially on a contending team like the Toronto Blue Jays. Whereas in somewhere like Tampa Bay or Colorado, he could play everyday without the weight of expectations from playing on a winning team.
Admittedly, there’s some upside to bringing Eric Thames back to the Blue Jays, but given the circumstances which the Blue Jays are under, I’m not sure now is the right time.
If this were the beginning of the 2015 season, I’d be all for signing Eric Thames. At that point, the Blue Jays really didn’t have much to lose. However, with a new front office at the helm and an expectation to uphold for 2017, Eric Thames feels like too much of a risk to take.