Milwaukee Brewers: What happens when Eric Thames returns?

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MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 02: Eric Thames #7 of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a home run in the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park on April 2, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
MILWAUKEE, WI - APRIL 02: Eric Thames #7 of the Milwaukee Brewers hits a home run in the sixth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals at Miller Park on April 2, 2018 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) /
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Eric Thames is currently on a rehab assignment with Triple-A Colorado Springs. Once he’s ready to return to action with the Milwaukee Brewers, they will have a number of tough decisions to make.

Eric Thames has been the Milwaukee Brewers’ starting first baseman the past year and a half. However, he’s been out for over a month with a torn UCL in his left thumb. Never fear, Brewers fans. Per Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the slugger is expected to return to the active roster during the team’s upcoming home stand. Though this is exciting news, his return potentially creates more questions than answers.

Who Loses their Roster Spot for Eric Thames?

The Milwaukee Brewers have been firing on all cylinders lately. Much of the production has come from the two positions Thames plays: first base and left field. Jesus Aguilar has been outstanding as a fill-in first baseman so far. Christian Yelich is meeting the lofty expectations set for him prior to the regular season. Even Ryan Braun is turning things around at the plate, bashing two home runs against the Phillies on Friday night.

This largely leaves one clear choice to head back to the minors to make room for Thames: Ji-Man Choi. The Milwaukee Brewers called him up recently to act as the designated hitter in American League parks. However, Milwaukee doesn’t have any more road games against AL teams for the rest of the season. This effectively makes Choi a roster redundancy, especially with Thames returning to the fold. The Brewers could also choose to send Eric Sogard back to Triple-A since he and Choi both have a Minor League option available for use this season. However, Sogard provides much-needed depth to a thin middle infield.

How will they use Eric Thames?

Thames has primarily been used as a first baseman the past year and a half, though he has shown the ability to play left field. In fact, the 31-year-old played one of his rehab games in left field according to Haudricourt. Naturally, he plays worse defense out there than Braun and Yelich, but he’s not awful. It’s also easy to overlook mediocre defense with Thames producing an OPS north of .900 against right-handed pitchers.

This brings up a good point, though. The fact that Thames hits righties so much better than southpaws makes a stricter platoon seem likely. Thames can take over at first base or in left field against righties. This allows the Milwaukee Brewers to keep either Braun or Aguilar in the lineup against righties. Then, Thames can get rest against lefties and let Braun and Aguilar mash them per usual.

Next: Are the Brewers leading the NL Central because of their depth?

Thames’ return certainly will cut into Braun’ and Aguilar’s playing time. Domingo Santana may also become residually affected by his return. Nonetheless, this is a good problem to have. Even if one of these talented hitters needs to take a seat on the bench for a game or two, that’s one more dangerous pinch hitter at manager Craig Counsell‘s disposal later in the game.

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