Tag: Eric Thames

Thoughts During The Early Days of the Lukewarm Stove

Before we get into the thoughts, I just want to say writing a post like this is an incredible thrill. I’ve enjoyed so many thoughts post from Mike and now Bobby that I really can’t put into words how awesome this is for me. If you follow me on Twitter, you’re very aware that I write long and random threads expressing my feelings at the moment so to write one for Views is pretty cool. So now that the sappy blogger stuff is out of the way, let’s get into the reason why we’re all here.

1. Letting Didi Gregorius Walk Would Be A Mistake: Didi Gregorius should be the Yankees starting shortstop in 2020. I cannot find a compelling reason that convincingly argues against this. People will point to the team’s desire to control spending. That is a self-imposed mandate that really shouldn’t exist. The team is more than financially capable of bringing Didi back and bringing in a high priced free agent like Gerrit Cole. It feels more important to focus on the baseball reasons for a Didi reunion.

I firmly believe Didi’s struggles were a result of suffering a significant injury and rushing to return in the middle of the season. There are various timelines given for position players returning from Tommy John surgery. Didi’s 2019 on field debut was on the shorter side of those projections. It is important to point out that despite returning ahead of schedule, he didn’t have a major league spring training. There are obvious reasons why a full spring training is important. In Didi’s specific case, spring training may be especially important for him to continue working on his on base skills.

2018 was a career year for Gregorius largely in part to his improved eye at the plate. He ended that season with a .335 OBP, which for an ultra aggressive hitter like Didi is pretty significant. He had a .332 OBP in 2014, but that was with 404 PA. The jump in OBP was a result of a career high in walks, but more importantly, it showed an improvement in pitch selection. Didi was diligently working at bats to find the pitch he could do the most damage on.

This approach worked really well for him. It is also an approach that he constantly needs to refine. That development time was lost to a grueling rehab process where the main goal was a return to the field. There is a case to be made that the painfully low OBP and career high K% is attributable to time lost focusing on a return to health instead of time spent on craft.

There is some data available publicly that suggests a bounceback from Didi is in the cards. Didi put up career highs in barrel%, exit velocity, positive launch angle, XSLG, and hard hit%. His BABIP was a career low .237. The obvious caveat is the decreased number of at bats this year as opposed to previous seasons with the Yankees. The point remains that Didi had stretches where he hit the ball hard. The ability to make forceful impact still remains. There would be a legitimate cause for concern if Didi’s power tanked with his OBP.

I firmly believe Didi is worth a new contract with the Yankees. Gleyber Torres, Freddy Galvis, and Jonathan Villar are all viable replacements to varying degrees. Didi still provides strong defense with lefty power. There is a strong possibility that a full offseason will mark the return of solid OBP and a refined hitting approach. There are also positive intangibles to consider, but there are also very real baseball reasons to bring Sir Didi back.

2. If Didi Leaves, Extend DJLM: One popular refrain amongst those that want to move on from Didi is permanently moving DJ Lemahieu to second base. This makes all the sense in the world. DJ is a gold glove caliber second baseman and Gleyber Torres is a fine replacement at shortstop. The issue is DJLM is under contract for one more season. It is pretty important to lock up an elite middle of the diamond for as long as possible. Gary Sanchez, Torres, and Aaron Hicks will be with the team for the next couple of years. It would be a pretty big blow to the Yankees if they lost Didi and DJLM in consecutive years.

So what would a DJLM extension look like? He is 31 years old and will have a $12M salary for 2020. The highest earners at the position are Jose Altuve ($29m), Robinson Cano ($24m), Dee Gordon ($13.8M), and Dustin Pedroia ($13.125M). Despite his age, DJLM’s elite hitting ability, strong defense, and versatility should earn a contract above Gordon and Pedroia. The Yankees prefer shorter team deals to maintain future financial flexibility ( I know, I know) so maybe a three year deal at $15-$16M does the trick? They could do a two year deal at those potential AAVs with some type of option for the third year?

Regardless of the specifics, the Yankees can’t really afford to lose two critical middle infield pieces in consecutive years. The prospect of Tyler Wade or Thairo Estrada getting regular at bats is unsettling. Of course, there could be a big trade like Lindor or Whit Merrifield, but DJLM should end his career as a Yankee. I’m a big believer in “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Yankees have built something that works and they should be adding to it not subtracting.

The Yankees are notorious for not extending players so this probably won’t happen. The Hicks and Severino extensions feel like outliers instead of the new norm. I can see both sides of the Yankee philosophy, but there are exceptions to every rule. DJLM feels like one of those exceptions especially if we see Didi in a Brewers or Reds uniform.

3. The Real Need For A Lefty Power Bat: Steven went in-depth about this topic, but I felt the need to echo the sentiment. Outside of adding an elite starter for the rotation, acquiring a lefty power bat is towards the top of my personal offseason shopping list. One thought that kept popping in my head as the ALCS was going on was “the Yankees sure could use one more lefty hitter with power.” The Astros best pitching options didn’t include a fading Wade Miley, but it did stand out to me that their entire pitching staff was right handed. The Yankees weren’t fully equipped to handle this. It would have been nice to have a lefty option to either start at the DH spot or pinch hit for Edwin Encarnacíon in the multiple big game moments he found himself in. When Brett Gardner emerges as your top lefty power threat you have a real deficiency on your hands.

This really isn’t about the Yankees’ right handed hitters’ ability to hit righties. It is more about making it as difficult as possible for a pitcher to navigate through the lineup. The concern about lefties at YSIII turning into pull happy victims of the infield shift is legitimate. With that said, hitters have never been more focused on hitting the ball in the air with authority. The ballpark is built for lefty power. This blog is named after the famed right field wall. Lefty power should always be a part of the Yankees lineup.

There are a few names that come to mind that could be potential targets. As we mentioned in the 2019-2020 Offseason Plan, Eric Thames is one attractive option. Beyond Thames, here is a list of hitters that could be of interest: Josh Bell, David Peralta, Mike Moustakas, Nomar Mazara, Corey Dickerson, and Jesse Winker. There is a personal varying level of interest, but this gives an idea of who could help the lineup out from the left side. Some of these names are available and some may not be. The overall point is the team does need some semblance of lineup balance heading into 2020. Success in the playoffs is largely tied to the ability to do immediate damage. A well rounded lineup increases a team’s chances of doing just that.

4. Maybe We Should Trust The Process: We all love baseball so much that we desperately try to interject ourselves in the processes of the sport as much as we can.

Fans want to be a part of the action. It is one of the primary reasons why a site like Views exists. There is so much information at our fingertips that allows us to analyze the game and arrive at reasonable conclusions. The opportunities to think along with the front office and managers are aplenty now. It’s fun to put on the GM hat and role play as a team builder. The offseason plan is an example of that. Is there a breaking point though? Does a line exist where we transition from enjoying the process to being tormented and jaded by it?

It is safe to assume that we want the best for the Yankees. A world series title is worth the emotional investment fans put in every seven months of the year. When that investment doesn’t result in the ultimate return, it is natural to feel incredible frustration. There is a difference between frustration and pessimism that clouds the reality of where the Yankees stand.

Admittedly, the last few Yankees offseasons have been tough to endure. We all know the story now. The sport’s marquee franchise preaches austerity in the name of smart team building. Despite a multitude of elite players being available, the team routinely passes on them for Tampa Bay Rays-like diamonds in the rough.

This is all a tough line to toe. We should be critical of the team when appropriate. At times, it does feel like the front office operates with an intellectual conceit that undermines the full potential of the roster. When the general manager quibbles about semantics instead of debating the merits of his process, it is more than appropriate to question what is more important in their eyes. These criticisms shouldn’t come at the cost of recognizing what the team has built. The Yankees avoided an Astros-like teardown and quickly constructed a championship contender with sustainability.

The team should have the benefit of the doubt. They are truly one of the few championship contenders in the league. In a depressing era where over half of the league’s teams have no interest or incentive to win, it is important to note that the Yankees aggressively execute the plan they believe is best for them to win a title.

I believe it is important to enter the offseason with optimism. The team will improve their roster. When spring training starts, we will pivot to debating how good this team is compared to other franchises. If the offseason doesn’t go the way we want it things will be fine. We’re still going to watch. We will still invest in the team. And we’ll all be happy that our team has a real chance to win a title.

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Free Agent Target: Eric Thames

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In a mildly surprising move, the Brewers declined to pick up Eric Thames’ 2020 club option. Thames would have earned $7.5 million had Milwaukee exercised it, but owed him a $1 million buyout, which really made it a $6.5 million decision. It’s a peculiar decision for a team that traded away its other first baseman a few months ago (Jesús Aguilar), but we here are pleased because signing Thames was part of our offseason plan.

Background

Thames, 33 on Sunday, was actually drafted by the Yankees in 2007. The Yanks grabbed him in the 39th round, but Thames elected to return to Pepperdine for his senior season. A year later, Toronto drafted him in the 7th round. This time, Thames went pro.

After a nice major league debut with Toronto in 2011, Thames bounced around quite a bit. He was traded twice in two seasons, from the Jays to the Mariners to the Orioles. Baltimore waived him the same season they acquired him and Houston picked him up, though he never played in the majors for either team. The Astros released him in the winter of 2013 to pursue an opportunity to play in South Korea for the NC Dinos.

As you may know already, Thames broke out in the KBO. He was a superstar for three seasons there and once again became an option to play at the highest level in the United States. The Brewers signed him to a three year, $16 million deal before 2017. Sung Min Kim wrote a nice piece about him for the Hardball Times prior to Thames’s stateside return.

Performance

In his rookie campaign with the Blue Jays, the left-handed hitter had a nice offensive campaign: he recorded a 107 wRC+ in 394 plate appearances. However, Thames’s suffered a sophomore slump and was traded to the Mariners for Steve Delabar a day before the 2012 trade deadline. His strikeout rate spiked to 30 percent and his wRC+ fell to 82.

After that rough season, Thames began 2013 in the minors and raked. In spite of a .295/.382/.479 (129 wRC+) line in Triple-A Tacoma, the Mariners never gave him another chance. Instead, they designated him for assignment and dealt him to Baltimore for Ty Kelly. Baltimore waived him in September, before they ever got a look at him in the majors. Houston snatched him up, but he never played for them either. The Astros released him in the winter for an opportunity to play for the NC Dinos of the KBO.

Thames spent three year in South Korea and was a superstar. He hit an incredible .349/.451/.721 in 1,638 plate appearances and launched 124 dingers in the process. He went 40/40 for the Dinos in 2015 and won the league’s MVP award. Also of note during his time there: he moved over to the first base primarily.

With newfound power, Thames returned to the states for another shot in the MLB. Though not as prolific as he was in South Korea, Thames brought his power stroke to the Brew Crew. He hit 72 homers in 1,288 plate appearances after returning to the US. Overall, Thames had a 119 wRC+ behind a .241/.343/.504 batting line. Power and on-base skills are the name of Thames’s game.

Now, Thames has a couple of downsides. One, he strikes out quite a bit (31.1 percent with Milwaukee). Additionally, left-handed pitchers can retire him with ease. Since returning to the MLB, Thames has a .188/.287/.375 (74 wRC+) line against southpaws compared to .251/.354/.529 (126 wRC+) against righties. But! With 2020 rule changes, don’t expect opponents to have lefty specialists to use against guys like Thames. Relievers will have to face a three batter minimum unless they record the third out of the inning.

Injury History

There’s not much here to worry about. Thames hit the then disabled list twice in 2018, but has been pretty durable otherwise. He missed nearly two months, from April 25th to June 11th, with a torn UCL in his left thumb. Thames hurt it when making a diving defensive play at first base. Later that year, he dealt with right hamstring tightness that kept him out the 10-day minimum in mid-July.

Contract Estimates

No salary estimates are available from the usual suspects (i.e. Fangraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, Bowden, etc.) at this time. Our offseason plan pays Thames $5 million for one season. That’s less than the $7.5 million salary the Brewers decided not to pay to keep him (which, as noted, was really a $6.5 million decision). Our guess doesn’t seem unreasonable, though it certainly is pretty team friendly.

Does he make sense for the Yankees?

Yes.

For sure. As Steven wrote this morning, the Yankees need left-handed power and Thames offers plenty of that.

Thames and the short porch could be a match made in heaven. (Baseball Savant)

You might say that Thames is redundant with Mike Ford (and Greg Bird, or is it Craig Byrd?) on the roster. But, we *know* that Thames is a capable big league hitter who should thrive at Yankee Stadium. Meanwhile, we may *think* that Ford is good (and I’m a believer myself), but he doesn’t offer Thames’s certainty. In any event, having Ford is extra depth in the minors is a good thing. He’s more than suitable for an up-and-down role with Scranton.

Additionally, I like that Thames can play the outfield. I’m not saying Thames is a defensive wiz, but he can at least fake it out there. Milwaukee cut his outfield play significantly last season, but it’s still ostensibly an option. Barring another catastrophic year of injuries, Thames likely wouldn’t see outfield time in pinstripes, but at least it’s an option.

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