Tommy Pham is one of the many free agents still without a contract for 2022, and the lockout has only added to the uncertainty facing Pham’s market following a pair of underwhelming seasons with the Padres. However, Pham is looking to increase his positional value, with The Tampa Bay Times’ Marc Topkin writing that the veteran outfielder is “open to playing first base if needed.”
Specifically, Pham said he would be interested in playing first base in a second stint with the Rays, as Pham played in Tampa during the 2018-19 seasons. The Rays are known to be looking for a right-handed hitting first base option, and a reunion with Pham would be a creative way of addressing that need. It stands to reason that if Pham is willing to take on a new position with the Rays, he is also willing to pick up a first base glove with other contenders who might come calling, and perhaps non-contenders as well.
Pham took a frank view of his pending free agency last September, saying that “I didn’t play well enough” in 2021 and that he was “fully prepared to take a one-year deal and reestablish my market.” Pham was still a slightly above-average hitter in the view of wRC+ (102) and OPS+ (103), as he batted .229/.340/.383 with 15 home runs over 561 plate appearances with San Diego. That kind of production and playing time is itself an impressive accomplishment considering that Pham was coming off a terrifying stabbing incident in October 2020 that threatened his life.
A case can be made that Pham was pretty unlucky at the plate last year, considering that his .354 xwOBA was significantly higher than his .318 wOBA. Between that glaring differential and his still solid hard-contact numbers, Pham could well be a bounce-back candidate to watch in 2022. In fact, he seems exactly like the type of relatively inexpensive veteran the Rays would traditionally target in free agency, as the team would bet that a healthy Pham could match or better the production of a player with a heftier price tag.
Pham played 37 games at shortstop in his very first season of pro ball, way back in 2006 with the Cardinals’ rookie ball affiliate. Since then, he has exclusively played in the outfield, and mostly in left field since the start of the 2019 season. Among the publicly available statistics for measuring defense, the Outs Above Average metric has been very down (-17) on Pham’s left field glovework over the last three seasons, while UZR/150 (-1.1) and Defensive Runs Saved (-3.3) are at least passable, if trending downward.
With this in mind, a change in positions might be a logical pivot for a veteran player looking to extend his career. Pham turns 34 in March, and he’d need a big year at the plate (no matter the position) to line himself up for a nice multi-year contract next winter, if he does indeed opt for just a one-year contract during this trip to the open market. While health issues have hampered Pham over the last two years, he isn’t far removed from a very strong five-year stretch of hitting .277/.373/.472 over 2110 PA with the Cardinals and Rays from 2015-19.