The Blue Jays could use some reinforcements at first base, and Eric Thames, who debuted with the Jays 2011, would be a good fit with the 2020 roster.
The biggest focus for the Blue Jays this off-season has been and should be the starting rotation, and that’s been the central topic of discussion so far on the rumour mill. We’ve already seen Ross Atkins make a trade to acquire Chase Anderson from the Milwaukee Brewers to help bolster the rotation, and chances are the work is far from done.
The pitching staff isn’t the only area of need, and I imagine that the Blue Jays are keeping an eye on market for veteran first basemen as well. They let their own former slugger in Justin Smoak become a free agent this winter, and it remains possible that he could return once the market sorts itself out a little more. However, there’s another former Blue Jay and Brewer that I could see fitting just as well, if not better than Smoak. I’m talking about Eric Thames, who had his seven million dollar option turned down by the Brewers a few weeks back and is now looking for his next gig.
Thames had a fairly productive season in 2019, slashing .247/.346/.505 with 25 home runs, 23 doubles, and 61 RBI in 396 at-bats. He ended up being worth 1.6 bWAR, and it’s a bit of a surprise that the Brewers let him walk. However, that likely comes down to two factors: they’re looking to allocate money elsewhere, and the free agent market hasn’t been kind to veterans like Thames, and they may be able to get him back cheaper.
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Last season the 33 year old made six million and he was set to make seven million in 2020 before his option was declined. Since the Brewers already paid him a buyout of one million, chances are they’re only going to get back in talks with him if there’s not much interest in his services. On that note though, I think he’s a pretty solid fit to return to Toronto.
The Blue Jays might be ready to hand the first base reigns over to Rowdy Tellez, but I’m not sure that’s necessarily a wise decision, at least without a fallback plan. Thames could be that safety net that would allow Tellez to return to Buffalo for another tune-up in 2020 if he needed, as he did this past season. Whether the Blue Jays decide to spend much at all on that back-up plan remains to be seen, but Thames could work well for a couple other reasons.
Obviously he could justify spending time as the DH when he’s not at first base, but he also has the ability to play in outfield if need be. He only made 12 starts there for the Brewers last year, but he also played there in 37 games in 2018. He wouldn’t need to be counted on to play in the outfield necessarily, but that versatility would help keep his bat in the lineup, especially because Randal Grichuk can slide to centre field when it’s needed.
It also helps that a guy like Thames probably doesn’t need to play every day in order to stay satisfied. He’s going to want ample playing time to be sure, but he’s largely been a platoon option for the Brewers recently. I’d say that works against a potential pairing of him with Tellez, but Rowdy actually hit better against southpaws last season (.270/.317/.513 in 115 at-bats) than against righties (.208/.283/.420 in 255 at-bats), so maybe that doesn’t really matter.
It’s hard to say whether or not Thames would be interested in coming back to Toronto, but obviously things have changed quite a bit for him since he entered the league in 2011 with the Blue Jays, having spent a few years in Korea, and then being a part of a few playoff runs with the Brewers. If there is mutual interest though, I like the fit because of his versatility, the depth and security he would provide for Tellez, and his potential production.
It might take a while before the Blue Jays address first base when it comes to dealing with their off-season checklist, but I hope if they’re not going to bring back Smoak, that they’ll consider another former Blue Jay. Until the Ross Atkins and company can see what they have in the long-term with Tellez at first, or determine if Vladimir Guerrero Jr. eventually needs to move away from the hot corner, I think they could use a veteran first baseman on the roster. The more I look at the fit, the more Eric Thames makes sense to me.