Jays Trade Analysis: LF Eric Thames for RP Steve Delabar


When Jared and I completed the Top 50 Jays Prospect list pre-2011, we listed Eric Thames as the 15th best Jays prospect, right after Noah Syndergaard (14) and right before Drew Hutchison (16). Jared got the call to do the writeup on Thames, and it lets you know a very detailed background of where he came from, available to you here. Since that time, Thames has done exactly as Jared predicted, earned himself a call up late in the season, and even earned a look early on this season based on his performance last fall. However, just as Travis Snider, his propensity for striking out much too often caught up with him and he was dealt to Seattle in return for some relief help.

In all, Thames leaves the Jays after reaching the majors by age 24, and after a .257/.306/.429 line over 2 seasons (510 ABs). What impressed me most about Thames was what I would call his “quiet” power. I call it quiet because most don’t realize just how many extra base hits he managed to hit despite a low batting average (51 in 510 ABs, or 1 per every 10 ABs exactly). That in itself is enough for the Seattle Mariners to have some interest in the youngster from San Jose. And if that’s not enough, his consistently positive attitude and relentless work ethic should definitely win them over in Seattle.

The problem with Thames when it came to remaining with the Jays was twofold: first, he wasn’t a great defender, so his ability to help pitchers out in LF wasn’t up to what the organization is looking for, and second, his overall ceiling at the plate doesn’t allow for them to use him primarily as a DH. At least, not yet! With the Jays looking to compete for a championship as early as 2013, they really couldn’t afford to play him while waiting for the strike outs to be cut down and walks to come more steadily.

With Moises Sierra, Jake Marisnick, Kevin Pillar, Dwight Smith Jr, Jacob Anderson, Jesus Gonzalez, and newly drafted D.J. Davis marching up the ranks, ready to provide the Jays with many options over the coming years in LF, there was no need to hold onto Thames in hopes that he’d figure things out in AAA. Particularly if he can bring back a piece to the 2013 and beyond puzzle. Someone that would help the Jays out immediately.

Enter RHP Steve Delabar, a relief pitcher with a heart warming and inspirational story.

Steve just turned 29 years old in mid-July, stands at 6’5″ 220 lbs, and was drafted twice (once by LAA in 2002, once by SD in 2003) before finally signing with SD in 2004. He enjoyed one good minors season with SD in 2006 (at age 22) when he managed 145 IP (a minors career high) and a 3.41 ERA/1.338 over 27 starts. The remainder of the seasons, Steve struggled to get going and was eventually cut by the Pads in 2008, when he decided to take a shot at the Independent League route.

Unfortunately for Steve, he only made it through a short period in the IL, when he fractured his right elbow and required 9 screws and wiring to get it back together. As you can expect, most believed that this would be the end of it, and that his pitching career was over. He took up teaching back in Kentucky, where he is from, and played slow pitch softball.

Fortunately for Steve, he decided to give it another shot and wound up getting a kick at the can with the Mariners, who signed him in April 2011 and sent him to the High Desert squad (HiA). That season, Steve worked his way all of the way up from HiA to the majors as he continuously showed an ability to strike hitters out. He may have walked too many while in AA (26 in 30.2 IP), but when you consider where he was coming from, the fact that he was effective in the least was surprising enough! He managed 15 saves in 2011 while in the minors, and got the call to the majors on September 6th, 2011.

His short 2011 stint was enough to prove to the Mariners that he belonged in the majors. He held a 2.57 ERA over 7 innings, struck out 7, and had an decent 1.286 whip. But, again, when you consider how far he’d come in 1 season, that was an incredible feat.

Then we take in the 2012 season, one that has seen him rise to new levels entirely. The biggest difference? He’s walking far fewer batters now, which has helped keep his whip especially low at 0.927 through 36.2 innings of work.  His 46 Ks over that span are outstanding, but his 4.17 ERA could stand to be lower.

Want to hear the best part?

This season, Steve has held LHB to an extremely low .089/.177/.125 line over 52 ABs. That, my friends, has LHB specialist written all over it. If the Jays needed anything over the last few seasons, it’s an ability to shut down LHB. After all, the AL East has many big LHB, such as Robinson Cano, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Matt Joyce, and Nick Markaikis. Having someone in the pen who can essentially neutralize those big bats is critical if the Jays want to keep them off the scoreboard late in games. Steve has proven he can do that, albeit over a short period of time.

The one worrisome stat I came across when it comes to Steve is that he has a much better line at home (.099/.169/.155) as opposed to one the road (.271/.377/.729). Now, it’s hard to say how he was used while on the road and whether or not he simply faced more RHB during those outings, but if he was only as good as he was due to his comfort level in Safeco, the Jays will have something to worry about very soon.

I hope that’s not the case and that he’ll provide the Jays with a nice LHB neutralizer out of the pen. He’s under Jays control through 2017 and could become a FA in 2017. Along with Casey Janssen, Sergio Santos, J.A. Happ, and Aaron Loup, he should help provide the Jays with a very effective pen in 2013, and it’ll be interesting to see how John Farrell uses him from now to the end of 2012.

Due to the injury risk, and the fact that Thames could become an effective every day player, I have to give an edge to the Mariners in terms of getting great value out of this deal. However, if Delabar effectively shuts the door on big LH bats over the next few years, as the Jays build a championship caliber team, he’ll be a weapon that the Jays can actually use, instead of one that the have to keep in AAA. Therefore, I call this trade a draw, and believe that as long as Delabar remains healthy, both teams will benefit equally from the deal.

– MG