Early this morning news started to trickle out on Twitter that the the Blue Jays were nearing an agreement with 29-year-old outfielder/first baseman Eric Thames on a Major League contract for the 2016 season worth a reported $2.5 million. The man himself confirmed the signing just a few moments ago:
Thames was drafted by the Blue Jays in 2008 in the 7th round and slowly made his way through the farm system until he reached the big league club in 2011. In 95 games that season, Thames showed his power ability but struggled to do much else, hitting .212/.313/.456 with 12 home runs. The next season he beat Travis Snider in a competition for a job out of Spring Training, but struggled mightily and was demoted to AAA before the end of May. He would never return to Toronto, as he was traded for the recently released Steve Delabar at the trade deadline that season. After finishing the 2012 season with Seattle and playing in Baltimore and Houston’s organizations in 2013, Thames left North America and went to Korea to play in the KBO. To say it paid off would be an understatement.
In 2014, Thames hit 37 home runs and put up a triple slash line of .343/.422/.688 in the KBO’s heavy hitting environment. That season was just the beginning for Thames’ success. He followed it up in 2015 by becoming the first player to ever hit over 40 home runs and steal over 40 bases in a season in Korea, finishing with 47 and 40, respectively. He was awarded the KBO’s Most Valuable Player trophy, and batted a Bondsian .381/.497/.790 over 142 games played.
After all that success, it’s a little strange that Thames would come back to Major League Baseball now, especially given that he still has one year left on his three year contract with the NC Dinos. However, there were reports out of Korea last week that Thames was not happy with how he was treated in his contract extension negotiations this spring, which could be a reason for the sudden departure. He apparently requested an extension of 6 years worth an excess of 150 million South Korean Won, while the Dinos wanted something more along the lines of 3 years and 75 million South Korean Won. In order for the Dinos to have released Thames and make him eligible to sign with a MLB team, the Blue Jays will be sending a reported $2 million cash to the club.
A corresponding move on the 40-man roster has not yet been announced by the Blue Jays, but it’s expected that Ezequiel Carrera will be designated for assignment to make room for Thames. It is unclear how Thames will fit in the Blue Jays’ lineup as left field seems to be occupied by Michael Saunders, while the designated hitter and first base positions are taken by Chris Colabello and Edwin Encarnacion. This signing could mean that Encarnacion’s oblique injury has not healed as well as we have been led to believe, and that he may miss time this season.
The big question is how much Thames has improved in his two years in Korea. His problem while with the Blue Jays and Mariners was getting fooled too much, as shown by his 25.6% strikeout rate; we’ll have to watch that number as the season progresses.
Hopefully he isn’t fooled by Aprils Fools jokes as well.