Veteran first baseman and outfielder Eric Thames took to Instagram yesterday to announce his retirement. “The day has finally come,” he says in the post. “In the year of our lord, twenty, twenty-three…HE GONE! I’ve been so blessed over these last 14 years to call baseball my job. The friendships that will last a lifetime, the memories that I’ll never shut up about (and those that I’m sworn to secrecy to take to my grave ).”
This announcement officially ends one of the more unique baseball careers, as Thames has spent the past few decades crisscrossing the globe. His professional baseball life began when the Blue Jays drafted him in 2008 out of Pepperdine University. He made his major league debut with the Jays in 2011 and performed well, hitting 12 home runs in 95 games. His batting line on the year was .262/.313/.456 for a wRC+ of 107, indicating he was 7% better than the league average hitter.
Things didn’t go as well the following year, as Thames hit .243/.288/.365 for the Jays and was optioned to the minors for a time. He was then traded to the Mariners in July for Steve Delabar, getting into 40 games with Seattle after that deal. In 2013, the Mariners kept Thames in the minors and eventually designated him for assignment. He was traded to the Orioles and then went to the Astros on a waiver claim, though neither team called him up to the big leagues.
Thames signed with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization for 2014, which transformed his career. After years of being on roster bubbles in North America, he emerged as a star in Korea. He hit 37 home runs for the Dinos that year and followed that up by hitting 47 and 40 in the next two seasons. His 2015 season stands out as being exceptionally impressive, as he also stole 40 bases and walked in 17.3% of his trips to the plate. His .381/.497/.790 batting line amounted to a 216 wRC+. He was crowned as the Most Valuable Player in the league that year.
After that strong three-year stretch with the Dinos, Thames returned to Major League Baseball, signing a three-year, $16MM deal with the Brewers. He was able to transfer a decent amount of his success from Korea to North America, as he hit 31 homers in 2017 while walking in 13.6% of his trips to the plate. His .247/.359/.518 batting line led to a 125 wRC+. Thumb surgery kept him out of action for a while in the following year, but he was still able to add another 16 home runs in 96 games, then hit another 25 in 2019. His three-year stretch in Milwaukee resulted in 72 long balls and a .241/.343/.504 batting line for a 118 wRC+. That last year saw the Brewers qualify for the Wild Card game against the Nationals. Thames went 2-4 in that game, including hitting a solo home run off Max Scherzer. But the Brewers ultimately lost 4-3 to the Nats, who would go on to win the World Series later that year, and that now goes down as the only MLB playoff game in which Thames played.
Despite that solid stretch, the Brewers surprisingly turned down a $7.5MM option on Thames for 2020 and went for the $1MM buyout instead. The Nationals scooped him up on a $4MM guarantee but he struggled in the pandemic-shortened season, hitting .203/.300/.317 with just three homers in 41 games. He signed with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball for 2021 but suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon after just one game with the club. He tried another return to the majors in 2022 by signing a minor league deal with the A’s, but struck out in 38% of his plate appearances in Triple-A and got released after 22 games.
In the end, it makes for quite a journey, with Thames having played for baseball teams all over the world. His major league career resulted in 96 home runs, 18 stolen bases, 451 hits, 286 runs scored and 235 driven in. But he’ll perhaps be best remembered by some fans for that magical three-year run in the KBO wherein he hit 124 home runs, stole 64 bases, scored 343 runs and drove in 382.
We at MLB Trade Rumors congratulate Thames on a fascinating and distinctive career, and wish him the best in his future endeavors.