The Brewers announced Monday that they’ve declined their $7.5MM club option on first baseman/outfielder Eric Thames. He’ll be paid a $1MM buyout instead. While Thames doesn’t have the requisite six years of free agency to become a free agent, the three-year contract he signed upon returning to Major League Baseball from the Korea Baseball Organization stipulated that he become a free agent in the event that his 2020 option was bought out. As such, he’ll be added to the free-agent pool and is now free to sign with any club this winter.
It’s a somewhat surprising decision, as the 32-year-old Thames turned in a .247/.346/.505 batting line with 25 homers, 23 doubles and two triples in just 459 plate appearances. Thames did strike out at a 30.9 percent clip, but he also drew a walk in 11.1 percent of his plate appearances. Thames has been a pure platoon player for the Brewers of late, and the reasoning isn’t especially hard to discern; in 202 plate appearances against lefties since his return to the Majors, he’s batted .188/.287/.375. Against right-handed opponents, he’s hit .251/.354/.529 with 63 of his 72 home runs.
Thames spent the bulk of his time in 2019 at first base, though he’s no stranger to either outfield corner. Metrics like Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating credited him as a solid defender at first in 2019 but less so in the outfield (-4 DRS, -1.3 UZR, -6 Outs Above Average in 490 2/3 innings since returning).
The free-agent market generally hasn’t been welcoming to bat-first corner-only options like Thames in recent seasons — particularly those on the wrong side of 30. His ability to log some innings in the outfield corners will give him a leg up on some other more limited sluggers, particularly with teams able to roster a 26th player in 2020. It’s possible that Milwaukee will look to bring him back on a lower-priced one-year deal, but other speculative fits for Thames on the open market will include the Twins, White Sox, Rangers and Nationals. Rebuilding clubs like the Marlins, Tigers and Royals could all conceivably take a look as well.