Well, this is a new one. Yesterday, the Brewers released slugging first baseman Chris Carter, who hit .222/.321/.499 while leading the National League in home runs (41), games played (160) and strikeouts (206) without a clear successor in place. And today, they have signed former Blue Jay and Mariner Eric Thames to a three year, $15 million contract out of the Korean Baseball Organization to replace him. Milwaukee has the option of tacking on a fourth year to the deal as well.
Carter was due a big raise via arbitration, but it’s certainly surprising to see the Brewers kick him to the curb after a fairly productive season. A modern-day Dave Kingman or Steve Balboni, Carter has game changing power and little else. He doesn’t hit for average, has no speed to speak of, and is a defensive liability even at first base. Still, those homers have made him an above average offensive player on the whole, especially when paired with a very solid walk rate. As a free agent, he should be an attractive option on a one-year deal for teams looking for help at designated hitter.
The Brewers reportedly shopped him at the trade deadline last year, but couldn’t find a taker. And, rather than risk a big arbitration payday, have turned their attention to an option that, almost literally, is from out of left field.
Thames came up through the Blue Jays organization and debuted in 2011. Like Carter, he showed impressive power, but had trouble putting the bat on the ball. After starting slowly in 2012, Toronto traded him to the Mariners for Steve Delabar. He struggled there as well and spent 2013 in the Seattle and Baltimore minor league systems. In 684 major league plate appearances, Thames has hit .250/.296/.431 with 21 homers.
In the winter of 2013, Thames signed with the NC Dinos in the KBO and became a massive star. In three years, he smashed 124 homers while hitting .348. That’s impressive, of course, but the pitching in KBO is certainly a step or two below MLB-level, especially in terms of velocity. And the Brewers didn’t scout him in person, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s Tom Hardricourt:
#Brewers signing of Thames is definitely thinking out of the box. Did scouting of him almost exclusively through video.— Tom (@Haudricourt) November 29, 2016
They’re placing a ton of faith on that video scouting, especially without a replacement ready. And despite winning a surprising 73 games last year, the Brewers are still in rebuilding mode. So Thames is a very reasonable, if surprising, risk to take.