Is Korean Baseball Phenom Eric Thames a Fit For the Padres?

Credit: AP Photo
Credit: AP Photo

It’s hot stove season folks. We’re officially into it. For some, this is the most exciting part of baseball fandom.

The insiders are currently abuzz with fresh rumors of potential moves. Fans wait with bated breath as their teams add and subtract to create something new. There’s nothing like re-imagining the puzzle, hoping that the updated formula might finally be the one.

San Diego Padres fans are beginning to accept that we really can’t predict what will happen when it comes to team moves. We have general manager A.J. Preller, who has Jekyll and Hyde tendencies during the off-season and at deadlines. Sometimes he acts like he’s playing Draft Kings (Winter 2015) and other times he’s as conservative as a Texas Governor (Deadline 2015).

So far, we’re hearing crickets at the start of this 2016/2017 off-season. I can hear the chirping as I browse my Twitter feed for updates. It’s been uneventful, but I’m actually not too bothered by it. I think the Padres have most of the necessary pieces in place already for 2017. The glaring need is starting pitching, but I am feeling pretty confident that the shortage will be addressed before opening day. We’ve discussed, in some length, a variety of different options in previous articles here at the East Village Times.

One (non-pitching) rumor going around right now is actually pretty fun. The Padres are apparently one of three teams linked to Korean baseball superstar Eric Thames. Now if you’re saying to yourself, “Eric Thames? That doesn’t sound like a Korean name.”, you’re right. He’s actually not a native Korean. He’s an American, and a Californian to boot. He got his start in MLB with the Blue Jays and the Mariners from 2011-2012. He was originally a corner outfielder with both clubs. In his two years in the majors, he slashed .250/.296/.431 with 21 homers in 684 plate appearances.

After subsequently spending over a year in the minors, Thames decided to try out the KBO and play for the NC Dinos. The Dinos switched him over to first base, and since his arrival, he’s been an absolute monster. He has at least 37 home runs in his previous three seasons. He has 64 stolen bases in 78 attempts and he slashed .348/.450/.720 in 1,634 plate appearances. He is beloved in Korea, but like anybody, he might want to strike while the kettle is hot and earn some American baseball money. Should it be with the Padres?

Pros:

Eric Thames seems like a potential superstar who could be had on the cheap. Sure, Korean baseball is night and day different from the MLB, but who knows, maybe he found his groove in the KBO and it translates over to the states. One recent example of that is Jung Ho Kang, who successfully made the transition with the Pirates. Thames is a left-handed batter, so he could potentially come off the bench late in games to face righties in high leverage situations.

Credit: YonHapNews
Credit: YonHapNews

As a first baseman, he could back up Wil Myers, now that Brett Wallace has elected free-agency. Thames also has value as an outfielder. However, if there’s one area where the Padres have an abundance, it’s in the outfield. There are a few scenarios that could provide an opening. If either Alex Dickerson or Travis Jankowski are traded there may be a need. Also, the Padres could send Manuel Margot back to Triple-A for extra conditioning and to save service time. The Padres would also likely have to decide on re-signing Jon Jay. There are a lot of variables in play there. An argument in favor of Thames becomes complicated.

I think one of Thames’ most impressive stats is his 64 stolen bases in Korea. The Padres are becoming an aggressive team on the base path and Thames’ speed could factor in nicely. He also may be able to add to the Padres’ recent power surge. In 2016 the Padres hit 177 total home runs. Thames power could help increase that already impressive team output.

Cons:

Where would Eric Thames fit, really? I just mentioned that the Padres hit 177 collective home runs last season. Do they really need to make major offensive changes at this point? Thames projects to be most likely a back-up first baseman/ fourth outfielder/ pinch hitter as a Padre. He is projected to ask for $10-15 million per year on the free-agent market.

I did say previously that Thames could be had on the cheap, but I meant cheap for a superstar, which remains to be seen in MLB. Yes, he hits home runs and steals bases, but so do a handful of players already on the current roster. Most are under team control for years and are currently getting paid close to the league minimum. I see no reason to displace the four young outfielders (all who have shown promise) for a risky 30-year-old player who’s been out of the league for three years.

Plus, I would rather see the Padres re-sign Jon Jay. He’s a great veteran, who still can produce and is beloved by his coaches and teammates, and he’s also a lefty. Yes, Brett Wallace is gone, but there have been some rumblings about Dickerson taking up his old college position at first base and becoming the new left-handed backup for Myers. Problem solved.The Padres aren’t really hurting for left-handed hitters like they were a few seasons ago.

Overview:

Thames is a fun player to try to factor onto a team. His is a feel-good story about a player who didn’t quit and found success in an unlikely place. I hear that he’s a good teammate with a great attitude. I just don’t see him as a fit on this Padre team. In my estimation, any attempt to bring him in would be a forced endeavor. The only way I see it making sense would be if Preller decided to go on another crazy off-season spree, shaking up the structure of the current outfield. If that doesn’t happen, I think that Thames would be a better fit for the other two teams (A’s and Rays) who are both in the A.L. and have an extra option for him at DH. For now, I think the Padres should be somewhat conservative, stay the course towards 2019, and try to snag some better quality at starting pitching.

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Benjamin Salom
Baseball is the second most beautiful art form in my opinion. The first is what God does with our San Diego sunsets. Football's pretty exquisite too. I'm Sarah's husband and a Cal alum. I have been a Padres fan since childhood. My first experiences were at the Q watching Tony and the crew in the 90's. I love sports and I love San Diego. I hope you enjoy my thoughts!

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