The Rays have lost another key free agent target to a three-year deal, as the Brewers have signed KBO 50-HR star Eric Thames to a three year, $15 million deal.
Thames was previously targeted as a slugging DH with speed that would be unproven at the major league level. In our analysis, Bradley Woodrum described Eric Thames as “medium risk - medium reward.”
After three years of mashing in Korea, Eric Thames is coming back to MLB. Brewers to sign him to 3yr deal to play first base. Story to come.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) November 29, 2016
Thames' contract with the Brewers includes an option for a fourth year. He is a LHH, something the RHH-heavy Brewers were seeking.— Adam McCalvy (@AdamMcCalvy) November 29, 2016
MLB Trade Rumors and industry talking heads widely connected the Rays with Thames as a typical gamble for the team, but Thames found guarantees in Milwaukee he was unlikely to find in Tampa Bay, beyond the three year commitment.
As the signing team is in the National League, Thames is being signed as a full time first baseman, a position the Rays were unlikely to commit to in free agency.
The Rays previously lost out on free agent John Jaso last off-season, despite his interest in returning to the club, when they would not guarantee playing time at first base, and instead acquired Logan Morrison.
Jaso batted a 111 wRC+ with somewhat negative defensive marks in 2016, while Morrison batted a mere 101 wRC+ and appeared in only 107 games. Both players were paid approximately $4 million in 2016.
In a pre-emptive move, the Brewers placed similar slugger Chris Carter on waivers, which could allow him to be acquired by trade should the Rays view him a wiser investment.
Both sluggers are entering age-30 seasons, but Carter hits from the right side (something the Brewers were looking to diversify) and has less speed on the bases.
Carter is coming off a 41-HR season with a 112 wRC+, and is projected to an $8.1 million salary through arbitration, with two years of control remaining on his rookie contract.