One of the biggest buy-low, question mark free agents of the offseason was former outfielder Eric Thames, who spent the last three seasons in the Korea Baseball Organization.
The Brewers decided to take a chance on Thames, signing him to a three-year, $16 million contract with an option for 2020.
After witnessing the Pirates get a steal in former Korean star Jung Ho Kang (four years, $11 million), the Brewers could not resist the opportunity to sign Eric Thames. While they aren’t putting too much pressure on Thames, Brewers management isn’t just letting him walk in with zero expectations.
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“We expect a productive major league player. That can take shape in a variety of ways. With a signing like this, there’s a fairly wide variance of potential outcomes, and we think there’s a lot of upside there. We’re going to put him in a comfortable environment that will allow him to adjust back to major league baseball, and hopefully his talents will take over.” – Brewers General Manager David Stearns (Courtesy of New York Times)
Much like Kang, Eric Thames put up incredible numbers in the KBO. Across three seasons in Korea (2013-2016), Thames posted a .348/.450/.720 batting line. Those stats are generously complemented by 124 home runs, 101 doubles and 64 stolen bases. Thames was the 2015 MVP of the KBO, a season in which he slugged 47 home runs and stole 40 bases. He batted .381 in his MVP season, slugging a Bonds-like .790. What’s even more impressive, and hopefully easily translatable to MLB, is the fact that he also drew 103 walks in 2015, compared to only 91 strikeouts.
Meanwhile, Brewers manager Craig Counsell seems to have every bit of faith in Thames. “Eric’s in a sweet spot for all this. He’s got something to prove, and I think he feels that. That’s a really good place to be for players, when they feel they’ve got something to prove,” he said.
While it’s not realistic to expect anything close to his previous level of play upon his return to MLB, Thames should be a valuable hitter this coming season. Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang is a former KBO star himself, having hit .298 with 139 homers overseas. In 229 games across two MLB seasons, Kang has been worth 6.1 fWAR. That is, by all means, impressive for a player coming from a foreign league. If the transition of Jung Ho Kang is any indication, Eric Thames could be a steal for Milwaukee.