Athletics To Sign Eric Thames To Minor League Deal

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The A’s are signing first baseman Eric Thames to a minor league contract, reports Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle (on Twitter). It’s a homecoming of sorts for the 35-year-old, who is a San Jose native.

Thames has appeared in the big leagues in parts of six seasons. He debuted with the Blue Jays in 2011, then split the following campaign 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. Over the 2013-14 offseason, the left-handed hitter made the jump to South Korea, signing with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization.

It was a masterful pick-up by the Dinos, for whom Thames blossomed into an instant superstar. He spent three seasons with the Changwon-based club, popping 37 or more home runs with an OPS north of 1.100 in each. The KBO was a hitter-friendly league, but Thames’ production was outrageous even after putting it into context. That was particularly true in 2015, when the Pepperdine University product hit .381/.497/.790 with 47 homers and 40 stolen bases. That output at the plate was an incredible 116 points above the KBO league average, by measure of wRC+, and he was awarded the MVP that year.

After dominating in the KBO, Thames set his sights on a return to the majors. He was a high-profile target during the 2016-17 offseason, eventually landing a three-year, $16MM guarantee with the Brewers. Milwaukee got a solid return on that investment, as Thames continued to produce at an above-average level (albeit nowhere near his otherworldly KBO numbers) with the Brew Crew.

He hit 31 homers and posted an overall .247/.359/.518 line over 551 plate appearances in his return season. That’d be his most productive year in Milwaukee, although his combined .236/.331/.495 line between 2018-19 still checked in 12 points above average (112 wRC+). Thames increasingly struggled with strikeouts, but he also drew plenty of walks and proved a consistent power threat.

After his contract with the Brewers expired, Thames inked a one-year guarantee with the Nationals that also included a 2021 club option. He stumbled to a .203/.300/.317 mark during the shortened season, and Washington bought him out. Thames made the jump back to Asia — this time to Japan — last winter, signing with the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball. Unfortunately, he ruptured an Achilles in his first game with the Giants and missed the rest of the season.

Thames now returns to affiliated ball, hoping to earn his way back into the majors. Presumably, he’ll get a chance to report to MLB Spring Training and compete for a spot on an A’s roster that could find itself in flux. Matt Olson is a potential trade candidate, as Oakland is reportedly looking to cut payroll after the lockout. Even if Olson sticks around, Thames could work his way into the designated hitter or corner outfield mix. Mitch Moreland and Jed Lowrie took the bulk of DH playing time last season, but they’re each free agents. Seth Brown and Chad Pinder could be in consideration for DH at-bats, but they look likely to platoon in left field to replace Mark Canha at the moment.

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