MILWAUKEE -- In one of the most out-of-the-box signings in recent baseball history, the Brewers on Tuesday finalized a three-year contract with Eric Thames, a 30-year-old going on five years since his last at-bat in the big leagues and who spent the past three seasons putting up monster numbers in Korea.
Brewers sign Eric Thames to a three-year deal
"As we came into the offseason, we noted our desire to pursue a left-handed presence in our lineup -- a presence that could help balance out our current roster construction, and we're certainly pleased and believe Eric is a very nice start to that goal," Brewers GM David Stearns said during a news conference.
The intent is for Thames to play first base and provide some left-handed thump to a righty-leaning Brewers lineup. The club will spend the rest of this week trying to trade incumbent Chris Carter before Friday's non-tender deadline. Carter's salary could jump to $10 million to $11 million next season in arbitration, according to the Brewers' internal projections, after he hit 41 home runs in 2016.
Thames' contract, which includes a club option for a fourth year, guarantees just north of $15 million, according to ESPN's Jerry Crasnick, who wrote earlier this month about Thames' bid to return to MLB. Brewers officials believe his upside and more modest salary give him a better chance than the costly Carter to be a contributor for the team when it reaches the other side of its rebuilding project.
"It's really a situation where we're excited to bring someone like Eric into the organization," said Stearns. "As we talked about a lot, we're building something where we want to establish a core of players that will lead us to the next group of competitive teams. As we evaluated the market this year, the areas we could add players, we quickly noted Eric could be one of those players."
It's a significant gamble. The Brewers do not have a permanent scouting presence in Asia, so their background work on Thames consisted of video study of every one of his at-bats and defensive plays over the past three years. In that time, Thames hit .348/.450/.720 with 124 home runs, 379 RBIs and 64 stolen bases in 388 games. His home run totals in those seasons were 37, 47 and 40. Thames won the Korea Baseball Organization's gold glove award at first base in 2015, when he became the first player in league history with 40 homers and 40 stolen bases in the same season.
"He's very aggressive at the plate and on the field, too, for that matter," a Far East scout for a Major League club told this month. "He's a first-ball fastball hacker, boy. He's trying to hit the ball hard. Sometimes you see guys who are happy to make contact and put the ball in play. That's not him. He's going to hurt somebody someday."
The KBO is generally considered a step below the competition in Japan, and comparable to Triple-A baseball in North America. The top player to move to the Major Leagues from KBO, infielder Jung Ho Kang of the Pirates, has said the biggest transition was adjusting to the increased fastball velocity in the big leagues.
"I'm so honored to be here," said Thames. "Last year, two years, three years ago, I had no idea what the future had in store for me and I'm very fortunate that David and the Brewers' organization looked at me with hope and believe in me and believe in my talent set."
Thames has not played stateside since 2013, when he was released by the Astros' organization and subsequently signed to play in Korea. He has not played in the Major Leagues since 2012, when he split the season between Toronto and Seattle, putting up a .232/.273/.399 slash line in 86 games as a 25-year-old.
"The biggest thing is just getting the reps in," said Thames. "I know guys are nastier now. It's crazy being gone, all these rookies here, I never [faced them in the Minors]. I have a lot of studying to do."
Adam McCalvy /

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