Should the Milwaukee Brewers look for a reunion with one of their former players?
After a rough 2020 season, the Washington Nationals decided to decline their end of a $4MM mutual option on first baseman Eric Thames. He is now a free agent. The Brewers still don’t have the first base position completely settled heading into 2021, so could a reunion be possible?
The replacement for Thames, Justin Smoak, did not fare well and the position is a huge need for the Brewers.
Eric Thames and the Brewers
In three years with the Brewers from 2017-2019, Thames posted a .241/.343/.504 slash line with a .848 OPS, a 118 OPS+, and 72 homers.
It didn’t take long for Thames to become a fan favorite in Milwaukee and his fun-loving personality fit right in with the team’s culture and the city’s culture. When the Brewers declined his option last offseason and he ended up signing with Washington, many fans were upset, and it didn’t help that Thames’ replacement, Smoak, hit just .186 with a .642 OPS in 113 ABs before getting designated for assignment.
To end the season, the Brewers rolled with a mix of Jedd Gyorko and Daniel Vogelbach which ended up being fairly solid. Gyorko has a club option for 2021 that could be picked up and Vogelbach is under team control for the next few years through arbitration.
So should the Brewers look to re-sign Thames to a one year deal in the hopes that the soon-to-be 34 year old first baseman could find the form he had with Milwaukee before?
Thames posted three straight seasons with an OPS+ of 106 or higher, but sunk down to a 65 OPS+ in the shortened 2020 season. He’s far from the only hitter to have uncharacteristically low stats from this year and a full, normal season in 2021 is likely to lead to a bounceback.
Since he’s coming off a tough season, Thames probably won’t be able to command a very high salary, and he can likely be had for something like $2-3MM.
Vogelbach, if he’s tendered a contract, will likely be somewhere between $1.4-1.9MM in salary for next year. With Vogelbach being cheaper, younger, and under longer team control, he is a very strong option. Thames is older, likely more expensive, and doesn’t have the long term control.
If Thames does come back and plays over Vogelbach and Gyorko, how much better is he really going to be? Would a Thames return move the needle that much at first base? Vogelbach has just as much power from the left side of the plate as Thames does. If his play toward the end of the season is to be sustained, Vogelbach has a very high ceiling.
Honestly, a Thames reunion appears unlikely. While both sides would probably be willing to sign one year deals this offseason, the Brewers didn’t seem interested in him last offseason and instead went with a more expensive option in Smoak. If they didn’t want him then, it’s hard to see the Brewers trying to go back to him now.
There’s going to be a large number of free agents this offseason, and the Brewers will do their due diligence on all of them, but for Eric Thames, they might pass on him once again.