Although the Brewers declined first baseman/outfielder Eric Thames’ 2020 option on Monday, that doesn’t necessarily mean his time with the franchise is up. General manager David Stearns stated after the decision that the team’s open to re-signing Thames for less than the $7.5MM salary he’d have made had it exercised his option, per Adam McCalvy of MLB.com.
“We’re certainly not closing the door on bringing Eric back. We’ll see if there’s a fit sometime later in the offseason,” said Stearns. “But at this point with the dollar value associated with the club option and the market we see developing out there at that position, we thought it was in the [team’s] best interests to decline the option.”
The Brewers ended up saving $6.5MM by cutting Thames, whose option came with a $1MM buyout. The former Korea Baseball Organization superstar spent three years in Milwaukee, where his tenure began with a flourish early in 2017 before his production settled in at solid but unspectacular levels. Thames, who will turn 33 next week, slashed .247/.346/.505 with 25 home runs in 459 plate appearances this season. His overall offensive output checked in at a respectable 16 percent above the league-average mark, per FanGraphs’ wRC+ metric, though the left-handed hitter was a platoon player who did just about all of his damage versus righty pitchers.
Considering Thames’ limitations and what the Brewers deemed too high a price tag, the small-market club now at least wants to sees if it can find similar or better production for less money. In Stearns’ estimation, it’s shaping up to be a “robust” offseason market for first basemen in terms of free agency and trades. Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion, Howie Kendrick, Justin Smoak and Mitch Moreland look like the game’s best free-agent first basemen, though at least the first two names on that list could prove to be out of the price range of a Milwaukee team that may want to save money at the spot, re-sign one or both of Yasmani Grandal and/or Mike Moustakas and perhaps upgrade other areas of need.
Should the Brewers opt against adding any somewhat pricey first basemen in the coming months, they could turn to outfielder Ryan Braun at the position. Braun is indeed “on the table” as an in-house option, Stearns revealed. While Braun only has 18 games at first on his resume (all of which came in 2018), moving him there may help preserve the oft-injured soon-to-be 36-year-old and his keep his still-capable bat in the lineup on a more consistent basis. The Brewers would perhaps be in position to deploy Trent Grisham as their primary left fielder in that scenario.