Since Mark Teixeira’s retirement at the end of the 2016 season, first base has been an incredible weakness for the Yankees. In terms of production, they rank very near the bottom of the league since 2016. Greg Bird has been too hurt and too inconsistent. Luke Voit’s emergence was fun, but a full season of 194 wRC+ is just not realistic. The Yankees could do well to engage the first base market before spring training breaks in February.
Unfortunately, much of the premier first base talent have already found new homes for 2019 and beyond. Free agent Steve Pearce re-upped with the Red Sox. Carlos Santana has been traded twice, and Paul Goldschmidt will now terrorize the NL Central as a member of the Cardinals. Still, one option remains: Eric Thames.
Thames is caught in a bit of a tough situation in Milwaukee. Thumb and hamstring injuries limited him to just 96 games in 2018, and he lost his starting first base gig to Jesus Aguilar. It appeared that Thames struggled to produce around the injuries and limited playing time. To complicate matters more, Ryan Braun is now 35 and his time in left field is running out. Braun is under contract for at least two more seasons, so chances of the Brewers being able to move him seem very slim. Eric Thames has just one guaranteed year left on his contract and is only owed $6 million. Given this, the Brewers could very easily put Thames up on the block.
Milwaukee is reportedly still in the hunt for Sonny Gray, and the Yankees could use a boost in production at first. But should they make a move for him? Thames would certainly profile well in the Yankee lineup and in Yankee Stadium. In two seasons since rejoining the Major Leagues in 2017, Thames has put up well above average power numbers, a .271 and a .259 ISO, respectively. Even in his limited 2018 season, 29 of Thames’ 54 hits went for extra bases. As a player who gets most of his power to right field, a move to Yankee Stadium would certainly help boost his offensive profile. Here’s his Yankee Stadium spray chart:
There’s also the fact that, outside of Aaron Hicks and Didi Gregorius, the Yankees didn’t have much thump from the left-hand side of the plate in 2018. That obviously didn’t stop them from setting the single-season home run record, but Didi isn’t going to be around much next season. If the Yankees decide to go with a glove-first Didi replacement, getting Thames could help replace some of Didi’s lost power.
While Thames’ power would certainly play in Yankee Stadium, he doesn’t come without a few holes in his game. On defense, Thames isn’t really going to wow anyone. He’s primarily a first baseman, but he did spend a few games out in the corner outfield spots this season. Still, he would easily be the worst defensive outfielder on the Yankees.
Thames has also really struggled against left-handed pitching his career. In 2017 and 2018, he put up a 71 and 61 wRC+, respectively. Granted, that sample only accounts for 99 plate appearances, but the deficiency is there. Given the Yankees’ propensity for going with a three-man bench and Thames’ defensive struggles, platooning Voit and Thames might not be a totally viable option.
The Yankees are really rolling the dice by sticking with Greg Bird and Luke Voit, but trading for Thames would be itself a roll of the dice. He doesn’t have the track record of a Goldschmidt or even of Carlos Santana, but there’s no question Thames has a skillset that would play very well with the Bombers. It really boils down to whether the Yankees think Voit was a flash in the pan or the real deal. If the Yankees are going to engage the first base market, landing Eric Thames would be their best bet.
All statistics, strengths and weaknesses aside, give me this dude on my team: