Heading into the winter, although basically everything was uncertain about the Red Sox winter I still had my theories. Among them was that they were only going to make one move to address the right side of the infield, striking at either second or first base and handing the reigns over to Michael Chavis for the other position. Then, they signed José Peraza at the end of the Winter Meetings. Some probably like him more than me, which is fine and also beside the point for this discussion. As far as adding more to the right side of the infield, it comes down more to a relative lack of money for Peraza than a relative lack of talent.
As we all know at this point, the objective of this winter for Boston is seemingly to spend as little money as possible while still putting an ostensibly contending team on the field. That said, after making their presumed trades getting rid of David Price and Jackie Bradley Jr. — both of which likely have a greater than 50 percent chance of being in new uniforms by April — they should be able to afford more than the $3 million they spent of Peraza, even given all the other holes they’d have to fill. Obviously, some of these holes can be filled in trades rather than free agency, too.
For this, though, I am sticking with free agency. Rather than my original theory that they would pair Chavis with one other player (for the most part) on the right side of the infield, the Peraza move signals something closer to throwing a bunch of...stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. Most of that stuff right now — Marco Hernández, Tzu-Wei Lin, C.J. Chatham, in addition to Peraza — is at second base right now. There’s not as much at first base, and what they do have — Chavis, Sam Travis, Bobby Dalbec — is right handed. Unless you feel like Josh Ockimey should be included here, which I do not. So, if there is more stuff to be thrown, one would think a left-handed first baseman would be the place to look.
If that is indeed the idea, the Red Sox are in luck as there is plenty of cheap, left-handed first base talent on the free agent market. A reunion with Mitch Moreland could still be in order. I wouldn’t be upset with that, but with Chaim Bloom having no connection it is probably less likely than it would have been if Dave Dombrowski was still here. The door is still open, though. A reunion with Travis Shaw could work, too, and then there are guys like Justin Smoak, Matt Adams and Greg Bird, among others. The one my eyes are drawn towards, however, is Eric Thames.
Thames has a really interesting career trajectory, and you may remember him from his days with the Blue Jays way back at the start of the decade. He wasn’t all that great back in those days, and he quickly found himself out of baseball. So, he went over to Korea to try and get things back on track. What happened was he became one of the best players in the league overseas and got major-league teams interested again. After four straight years in the KBO with OPS’s that went to four digits, he decided to come back to the states to give it another go in the majors.
The Brewers took the chance on him, handing Thames a three-year deal worth $16 million plus a fourth-year team option. He came back a different player than he was his first time around, now built like a tank with massive power, a good eye and a lot of swing and miss. The result was a huge run to re-start his major-league career and eventually a 2017 with a 125 wRC+ over 551 plate appearances. It looked like a huge success for Milwaukee. Then, Thames came back with a slightly above-average (105 wRC+) season in 2018 before putting up a 116 wRC+ in 2019.
Despite bouncing back a bit this past year, the Brewers declined his $7.5 million option and he is a free agent. There is still the possibility of a reunion there, but the Red Sox should jump in on the 33-year-old.
The calling cards here are not hard to see, and I mentioned them above. He hits for huge power, with ISOs of at least .250 in each of the last three seasons. Among qualified players over the last three years, of which there were 234, only nine finished with a higher ISO over than Thames. Now, the Brewers park is better for left-handed power than Fenway and he is not an opposite-field slugger, but his power can carry to the bullpens in Boston’s right field.
Thames also draws walks, with double digit walk rates in each of the last three years. Again, looking at those qualified hitters over the last three years he is 37th in walk rate at an even 12 percent. The downside is the strikeouts, with rates at, above or near 30 percent in each of the last three years. He is eighth on this leaderboard over the last three years. The good news is he has still been a solid on-base guy (.347 since 2017) thanks to that walk rate as well as solid results on batted balls. Strikeouts are never fun, but there are ways to make up for it and Thames has been able to do just that in the last three years.
The Red Sox are set up to put him in a position to succeed, too, because he really shouldn’t be able to face lefties very often, if at all. In each of these three seasons since coming back from Korea, Thames has been well below-average against southpaws but well above-average against righties. In fact, going back to 2017 he has a 126 wRC+ against right-handed pitching and was at 122 this past year.
Does that mean this would be a straight platoon with Chavis if the Red Sox did make this move? No. I can’t imagine Boston would limit Chavis to the short-end of a platoon. Instead, it would just give them flexibility to move guys around. Chavis could cover second base some times. There has been talk about giving him time in the outfield, too. Along those same lines, Thames has experience in the outfield as well. He’s not great out there, but he should be fine being hidden in front of the Monster. With Bradley likely traded, I suspect there will be more shuffling around out there. That also includes with J.D. Martinez (whether we like it or not), opening up the DH slot for both Thames and Chavis when needed. The point being, there is plenty of room to give both of these guys something sort of close to an everyday role while moving guys around, and that is without accounting for injury.
Like I said, Thames is far from the only left-handed first base option, and they are all relatively cheap enough to not scare away the suddenly-frugal Red Sox. He has not been formally connected to the Red Sox, or really anyone outside of a few passing mentions that “the door is still open” for a reunion with Milwaukee. Among them, though, Thames makes the most sense to me. He mashes, he kills righties and he can fill in in the outfield, where the team has more of a need for depth than a position like third base. Plus, perhaps most importantly, he has massive muscles that could come in handy if they ever need to duel with the Rays’ Yandy Díaz. What’s not to like?