Nothing has piqued my interest this offseason quite like free-agent outfielder Eric Thames.
Thames is 30 years old, and if he returns to playing in the Majors next season, it will be his first time suiting up in a MLB uniform in half a decade.
In 2008, Thames was a 7th round pick in the MLB Draft of the Toronto Blue Jays. He worked his way up through the minor leagues, showing good pop and a keen ability to get on base.
Thames was a big leaguer by the 2011 season, and he was decent, swatting 12 home runs and posting a .769 OPS (105 OPS+) over 394 plate appearances with Toronto.
Selected off waivers by the Mariners in 2012, Thames wrapped up that season with a total of 21 career big league homers, a .727 OPS (96 OPS+) and defense so poor that he did not even provide any real value (-0.1 FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement).
What is shocking, though, is what has happened since Thames fell into relative obscurity within baseball circles, especially since he was never a top prospect and was never considered to ever become a superstar at any level.
Over the past three years, Thames has been one of the best baseball players in the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO).
From 2014 through 2016, Thames has a combined 124 home runs (41.3 HR/year average) and 379 RBI (126.3 RBI/year average) over 388 games.
He was named KBO MVP in 2015 when he posted a .381/.497/.790 line with 47 home runs, 140 RBI, 40 stolen bases and a 103-91 BB/K ratio in 595 plate appearances.
Now that Thames is a free agent once again, he's generating interest from Major League franchises, who not only seemed inclined to give him a Major League contract but a multi-year deal, according to some executives.
"Look at some of the money that Cuban players have gotten," one executive told Jerry Crasnick of ESPN. "What’s the difference here? I think somebody is going to bite, and he’ll get a contract for two years and $12 million, or three years and $15-18 million."
According to Crasnick, the San Diego Padres, Oakland Athletics, and Tampa Bay Rays have all shown interest in Thames.
Can Thames make a true big league impact?
Certainly, teams think so. Results, on the other hand, give us mixed messages.
Pirates infielder Jung Ho Kang went from Korea in 2014 to the big leagues from in 2015, and phenomenal results were almost immediate. He went from posting a 1.198 OPS in the KBO to an .816 OPS (123 OPS+) in the Major Leagues. That's a success story.
Hyun Soo Kim went from posting a .979 OPS in Korea in 2015 to a .801 OPS (113 OPS+) in the Majors in 2016. He was good with the Orioles but only in a limited role.
Like Thames, Twins designated hitter and first baseman Byung Ho Park is a former KBO MVP. He posted a 1.150 OPS in Korea in 2015 and then a .684 OPS in America in 2016. Park spent a big chunk of last season in Triple-A and remains a huge question mark.
One thing among all three of these examples is certain: when moving from Korea to America, the OPS will fall, and it might be only due to a transition period and getting used to Major League pitching. Though, I wouldn't say that is for certain, as the KBO is a notorious hitter's league.
For Kang, the OPS fell 32% (though it did go higher in 2016). For Kim, the OPS fell 18%. And for Park, the OPS fell 41%.
If we assume that Thames' OPS falls approximately 30% from 2016 to 2017 when making the likely transition to the Majors, he would post approximately a .770 OPS next season, which falls awfully close to what is in line with his MLB career OPS (.727).
Sure, my calculations are based on a mere three examples, but I think my point still stands. Thames isn't as good as he is in Korea, and it might not even be close.
Does this mean that a team does not deserve to give him a job? Absolutely not. It is on the teams to exploit every possible opportunity to gain value, and Thames could conceivably provide a lot of value if he even 80 or 90 percent of the guy he was in Korea.
But for me, I just don't see that happening.
For a lack of a better word, the relief pitching market is set to explode during the 2016-17 offseason.
It's already coming to fruition. The Cardinals got Brett Cecil on a four-year, $30.5 million deal earlier today.
Yes, in terms of baseball contracts, that's not a number that necessarily jumps off the page. However, it's truly going to set a market which is expected to be the most lucrative for relief pitchers. Ever.
Consider this: during the 2014-15 offseason (so two offseasons ago), Andrew Miller signed a four-year, $36 million deal with the New York Yankees. At the time, it was considered to be a big deal for a non-closing reliever. (Miller did not begin to close until after signing the contract.)
Miller was coming off of three strong seasons of being an effective reliever and, like Cecil, was going into his age-30 season. But, even though he wasn't the best reliever in baseball like he is now (sorry, Zach Britton), in this market, Miller would have blown past what Cecil earned. I'm sure of it.
Cecil has a very respectable 2.90 ERA and 3.68 K/BB ratio over the past four years, all of which he has been used specifically as a reliever. Miller, on the other hand, was coming off of three seasons of a 2.57 ERA and a 3.74 K/BB. So, he was slightly better, but not enough to truly warrant a huge deal.
However, when taking into consideration the contract years each of them had, one can see where Miller would earned way more than what Cecil did today.
In 2014, the season going into his free agency, Miller posted a 2.02 ERA, a 14.9 K/9 ratio and a 2.5 BB/9 ratio in 62.1 IP, cutting the amount of walks he issued in half from the previous season. Cecil, on the other hand, worked to a 3.93 ERA, a 11.0 K/9 ratio and a 2.0 BB/9 ratio in just 36.2 IP. He spent a lot of last season injured.
Now, if the Cardinals are willing to spent almost $31 million on a guy who sat out almost all of May and June, how much would they (or anyone else) have spent on a guy with Andrew Miller's numbers who stayed healthy for an entire season? I'm thinking $40 million or more.
Now, we've got two Andrew Miller-caliber relievers out on the free agent market: Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen. With baseball's stigma towards closers being more important than regular relievers (they're not, but that's a discussion for another time), they're already going to be guaranteed much more than the $30 million Cecil earned.
I didn't think it was possible, but Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen could earn $80 million or more, with the former possibly pushing $100 million. No, I'm not joking.
Teams have seen how the Cubs, Indians, Royals and other successful postseason teams have used their relievers over the past few years. And with talk that baseball could expand to 26-man rosters, bullpens are not going away anytime soon. They're only going to become more prevalent . . . and more expensive.
If you are a free agent in Major League baseball, strike a lot of guys out, and pitch and inning or two max, you're going to make a lot of money this offseason. Brett Cecil can tell you all about it.
I’ve had time to sit and think.
The Chicago Cubs are the 2016 World Series Champions.
World. Series. Champions. What does that mean? How can I capture what I was feeling as Kris Bryant, with a huge grin on his face, fielded the final ground ball of the Cubs’ storybook ending? Obviously, I cannot write about this experience in your typical, “Hey, the Cubs did something good” story. It is definitely a news article, but it surely felt like more than that.
I am not a Cubs fan. I have never even been to Chicago (though it seems like a nice place) for any more more than a cancelled flight, causing me to spend one lone night the Windy City. Despite this, as the clock kept ticking later and later--midnight, 12:15, 12:45 (just minutes before the final out)--I felt something within me that I rarely ever feel: euphoria.
It is obviously in the nature of a sports fan to almost feel the intensity of moments like these within themselves. But for me, and I don’t know whom else (but I figure a lot of you), I wanted nothing more than the Cubs to be able to end their drought. This is the drought that made them the laughingstock of baseball:
Oh you’re a Cubs fan? Did your great-grandfather even get to see a World Series championship? Ha ha ha.
But, all in all, Cubs fans stuck with their team. They clung to the idea of a championship, knowing that--eventually--it would happen.
There were rough moments.
Blaming Steve Bartman for the 2003 NLCS loss was absurd. Even if Moises Alou did make that play, there was still no guarantee they would have gone on to beat the Yankees in the World Series. You cannot blame Bartman for the costly error Alex Gonzalez made, either.
Bartman aside, though, I see a lot of good.
Today in English class, we discussed the traits that make someone admirable.
What are the characteristics of someone you admire?
And you know what? I admire Cubs fans. I admire the 80 year olds that just got to celebrate their team’s first world championship. I admire the fans that were born, grew up their entire lives as Cubs fans, and unfortunately passed before they could see the team hoist the trophy. I admire their ability to stick with their team, both in the good and in the bad.
Chicago fans deserved this victory.
This is why, despite my best attempts to remain impartial as a journalist, I wanted to see the Cubs win the World Series. And this is why, when I woke up this morning after less than six hours of sleep, I was happy, excited and still in shock.
The Chicago Cubs are the 2016 World Series Champions.
Amidst all the fun that comes with the World Series--the storylines, triumphs, defeats--an unfortunate story was leaked on Tuesday.
New York Mets closer Jeurys Familia was arrested on Oct. 31 due to domestic violence allegations. It is awful to hear about yet another professional athlete doing something like this. It is even worse when realizing Familia had taken part in an ad campaign against domestic violence released just in the past month, where he says, in Spanish, “I am not fan of domestic violence.”
While the news is still developing and details are still becoming available to the public, I ask Rob Manfred, when the time comes, to truly consider the implications of the punishment when it is handed down to Familia.
Manfred has done well, at least I believe he has, so far when handling domestic violence cases. According to MLB policy, it is 100 percent up to Manfred’s discretion when handing down a punishment.
Manfred, thus far during his tenure as commissioner, has had to handle three higher-profile domestic violence cases. And, of course, he has handed down three distinct punishments.
Mets’ infielder Jose Reyes was arrested and charged in Hawaii last October due to a domestic violence complaint. Though, after his wife would not cooperate with authorities, charges were dropped. Manfred’s punishment was a 51-game ban.
Cubs’ reliever Aroldis Chapman was not arrested nor charged in a domestic violence incident last December. Manfred barred him 30 games, but he is pitching in the playoffs for Chicago, generating controversy within itself.
Free agent Hector Olivera was arrested and charged outside Washington D.C. last April. His trial did go through the courts system, and he was found guilty, receiving 10 days of jail time. Manfred passed down an 82-game suspension to Olivera, who looks unlikely to receive another shot at playing in the Major Leagues.
For Familia, though, I am not asking Manfred to hand out a specific punishment. I think I am (we probably all are, at the moment) not informed enough on the subject or even how to develop a suspension to just throw a number out there. That is not what this is about.
I am asking Manfred, however, to begin to develop a precedent for future cases. Sure, he has, to an extent, dealt with that with Reyes’, Chapman’s and Olivera’s issues, but even each of their cases carried different impacts.
Chapman, obviously, is the most known and best player of the three. He also was not charged nor arrested. It makes sense, then, as to why he received the least amount of punishment from that specific angle.
Reyes is still known, but he is well past his prime. The Rockies swiftly parted ways with Reyes after he returned from suspension, where they may have been more reluctant to do so had Chapman been their player. In fact, Chapman was still sought out by teams, first by the Yankees during the same offseason in which the allegations were brought against him, and then by the Cubs who needed a playoff push. It is not against any rule to pursue a player associated with domestic violence, but it is a little sad to think teams are able to overlook that in the name of winning.
And then there is Olivera, who was arrested and charged but is relatively unknown in terms of the baseball world. That, specifically, is why I cannot see him making a return to the big leagues.
With Familia, Manfred is dealing with a player that falls into the same category as Chapman in terms of stardom and will either fall into the same category as Reyes or Olivera in terms of the severity of the legal proceedings.
All I ask from Manfred is that he stays consistent. Sure, I enjoy baseball, but I am also a sports fan. And, I have seen far too much where the National Football League, in particular, has gone wrong in terms of handing out punishments. They are either lenient and then made stricter due to press coverage (look at Josh Brown’s case), causing a whole headache for the league and its fans overall.
Domestic violence is downright gross. It does not have a place in any society. But, commissioner Manfred still (unfortunately) has to deal with it. And my hopes are that he is sincere, consistent and takes all into consideration before dealing with his next challenge.