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.
I am not a general manager, but I am going to pretend that I am one.
My team, like many others, is in contention right now, and we need a starting pitcher. The options out there include Rich Hill, Jeremy Hellickson and perhaps Sonny Gray. But if I was to make a trade right now for a player that I want to not only pitch me to the postseason but pitch for me in the postseason, I would be picking up the phone and dialing the San Diego Padres.
Drew Pomeranz is the guy I'm interested in. He's 6-foot, 5-inches, left-handed and just 27 years old. He's also having a breakout season in San Diego, having gone 8-7 with a 2.47 ERA in 102 innings pitched over 17 starts during the first half.
I'd want Pomeranz for a few reasons.
1. Contract Status
Pomeranz is not a free agent until after the 2018 season, giving my team the rest of this season as well as two more seasons to contend with him in my rotation. This year, in particular, Pomeranz does not cost much. He avoided arbitration with San Diego in the offseason, and they only had to pay him $1.35 million.
A client of Beverly Hills Sports Council, Pomeranz may also want to do an extension with my team when the time comes. According to the Extension Tracker at MLBTradeRumors.com, BHSC has done plenty of pre-free agency extensions in the past, most recently negotiating for Francisco Cervelli, Gregory Polanco and Salvador Perez in their new deals.
2. Statistical Sustainability
Pomeranz has seen the best performances of his career this season, but some would argue that he's been helped from pitching in PETCO Park, one of the league's most notorious pitcher's parks. This cannot be denied, however, his ERA+, which adjusts for park and league factors is still extremely high at 161. This means that his ERA of 2.47 is still 61 percent better than league average, even when taking into consideration a high percentage of his starts will come at PETCO.
Pomeranz's FIP and xFIP both suggest that his ERA may be a bit too good to be true, but they're definitely not suggesting he's been a bad pitcher by any means. Pomeranz has a 3.18 FIP and a 3.66 xFIP, which rank 9th and 21st in the Major Leagues, respectively.
One thing to caution for Pomeranz, however, is his BABIP (batting average on balls in play) against. His career .271 mark is already below the league-normal of .300, but this season his BABIP against sits at .240. An explanation for this may be because Pomeranz is becoming harder to hit by upping his two-seam fastball and off-speed usage (especially with his knuckle-curve), as he has not seen his soft contact against rates change off his career average.
3. Age and durability
Pomeranz, at just 27, is more likely to provide quality innings down the stretch as opposed to some of the other options out there.
For instance, Rich Hill, a rental to begin with, is 36, and while he also pitching well, he already spent time on the disabled list earlier this season. My team does not want a player that may struggle to stay healthy as we try to make a run down the stretch.
With that said, however, Pomeranz has had his injury history as well. He went on the disabled list last year with shoulder tightness, and then later in the year, he returned after punching a chair in frustration. Other than that, he has generally remained healthy for most of his career. This season, he's showed off his health by throwing 100+ pitches in nine of his 17 starts.
This year's starting pitching trade market is weak. Pomeranz won't come cheap, that's for sure. His value has never been higher, and he just got to go to the All-Star Game. But if I really needed a starting pitcher, I'd be punching in the number of San Diego right about now.
Baseball season begins in a month. Spring Training games began last week, but the real news is that regular season baseball is just four weeks away. This Saturday night, I will be previewing the National League West division, after previewing the East and Central divisions each of the past two weeks.
1. San Francisco Giants -- 2015 Record: 84-78; Projection: 93-69
I don't believe in correlation without causation, but the fact that the Giants won the World Series in 2010, missed the playoffs in 2011, won the World Series in 2012, missed the playoffs in 2013, won the World Series in 2014, and missed the playoffs in 2015 is fairly interesting. The Giants appear to retool every other year to then subsequently win the World Series. And boy did they retool this offseason.
San Francisco added Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, and Denard Span over the winter, deepening both their rotation and lineup. On the offensive side of the ball, the Giants boast the likes of Joe Panik, Buster Posey, Brandon Belt, Hunter Pence, and Matt Duffy, as well as Span, to give them a great order from the top to the bottom. This was a team that posted the second-best wRC+ in baseball without Span, so 2016 should be a similarly good offensive year for the team.
The Giants' downfall came in their rotation last year. As a group, that unit was worth a total of 7.2 fWAR, sixth-worst in the Majors. With pitching that bad, I'm actually surprised that the Giants played as well as they did last year. The front office obviously noticed the same issues, and they pounced. Cueto and Samardzija now give the Giants a much improved rotation that also includes Madison Bumgarner, Jake Peavy, and Matt Cain. This improved pitching, plus the fact that it is an even year, should carry the Giants to a division title.
2. Arizona Diamondbacks -- 2015 Record: 79-83; Projection: 91-71
I guess I still haven't learned my lesson, have I? I've always been high on teams that are considered the bigger winners of the offseason and then they falter and do not reach expectations. The Diamondbacks are different, though. They did something similar to what the Cubs did last offseason. The Diamondbacks took a young core in the form of Paul Goldschmidt, A.J. Pollock, David Peralta, and Patrick Corbin and supplemented to it. That's different than the 2015 Padres, for instance, who basically built their team through free agents and trades. The Diamondbacks built their team, and now they are supplementing it. This is why I think this will work.
Who were those additions, you ask? Well, their biggest came as a huge rotation upgrade. Zack Greinke will now be leading a Diamondbacks' staff that also includes fellow new addition Shelby Miller, as well as Patrick Corbin, Rubby De La Rosa, and Robbie Ray. The rotation was a place of struggle for Arizona last season, and they definitely made the necessary moves this offseason to give them one of the more formidable staffs in baseball. Their bullpen, too, got an upgrade. This time it comes in the form of Tyler Clippard, who will serve as a nice bridge to closer Brad Ziegler. Last season, the Diamondbacks ranked 27th in fWAR from pitchers.
In the lineup, the Diamondbacks supplemented Goldschmidt, Pollock, and Peralta with Jean Segura. They hope Segura can find his bat in 2016. If so, he'll be an extremely good upgrade in the middle infield. Arizona also needs Yasmany Tomas, Jake Lamb, or Nick Ahmed to step it up in 2016 in order to make up for the loss of Ender Inciarte.
The Diamondbacks will be on the cusp of making the playoffs, but if everything goes well for them, I wouldn't be surprised if they are still playing come October.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers -- 2015 Record: 92-70; Projection: 88-74
It appears that the Dodgers have an unlimited amount of funds, but they still could not get David Price or Zack Greinke to sign with them in free agency. Even a deal with Hisashi Iwakuma fell apart, leaving the team to settle for deals with Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda, and Yaisel Sierra. The Dodgers won the NL West in 2015, but this was partly because their pitchers combined for the second-highest fWAR total and fifth-lowest ERA in the Majors.
In 2016, where are the Dodgers going to get their pitching? Greinke, who was worth 5.9 fWAR, is gone. The Japanese Maeda is something of an unknown. Hyun-jin Ryu missed the entire 2015 season with a torn shoulder. Clayton Kershaw is the only anchor in this rotation. If it works out, more power to them. But, I'd rather have the Diamondbacks' Greinke, Miller, and Corbin in a three-game set as compared to Kershaw, Anderson, and Kazmir or Ryu.
On the offensive, the Dodgers should be just fine. Their lineup posted the third-best wRC+ in baseball last year, and it should be even better this year with a full season from top prospect Corey Seager. Adrian Gonzalez, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig are the heart of a power-heavy order that is among the best in the league. The Dodgers still have the firepower to make a run deep into the postseason, but their pitching remains a question mark.
4. San Diego Padres -- 2015 Record: 74-88; Projection: 74-88
The Padres' 2015 season was nothing short of a disappointment. The team put all their chips on the table last offseason, acquiring Matt Kemp, Wil Myers, Justin Upton, Derek Norris, James Shields, and Craig Kimbrel via trade and free agent signings. Despite all those big names, the Padres were actually worse in 2015 than they were the prior year (77-85). Kimbrel and Upton are gone, but the Padres seem to be in between fully rebuilding or trying to contend. This uncertainty will lead to another subpar season.
Perhaps the biggest offseason acquisition for the Padres was the hiring of new manager Andy Green. He has never managed at the big league level, last serving as the Diamondbacks' third base coach, but needs to spark this team and develop a chemistry that they did not have last year.
The Padres' offense got additions in the form of Jon Jay and Alexei Ramirez this offseason, but the loss of Justin Upton in the middle of the order will hurt. Even with Upton posting a 122 OPS+, San Diego was in the bottom third in baseball in wRC+. They can be better this year if Norris can improve on his 99 OPS+ in 2015 and if Ramirez serves as a true upgrade over Alexi Amarista at shortstop (which he should).
In the pitching department, the Padres shouldn't be terrible. Their staff actually posted the eighth-best xFIP in baseball and top-three starters, Tyson Ross, Shields, and Andrew Cashner, all return. In the bullpen, Fernando Rodney takes over as closer. If the Padres want to beat this projection, they need their offense to pick up the slack. It's hard to see that happening, when the team appears to lack a real direction.
5. Colorado Rockies -- 2015 Record: 68-94; Projection: 70-92
The Rockies want to contend, but I just don't think that is possible. It may happen sooner rather than later, however. In 2016, the Rockies indirectly proved that they wanted to contend, signing Gerardo Parra and acquiring Jake McGee from the Rays to upgrade their lineup and bullpen, respectively. This team won just 68 games in 2015 and is not complete or deep enough to make any real noise in the National League this upcoming year.
I am a fan of the Rockies lineup heading into the season. Charlie Blackmon, D.J. LeMahieu, Carlos Gonzalez, Nolan Arenado, and the Coors Field effect should give the Rockies one of the higher scoring offenses in the National League. Last season, though they did have Troy Tulowitzki for the first half of the year or so, the Rockies scored the fifth-most runs in baseball.
The only issue with the Rockies is their pitching. That's a pretty major issue, to be fair. Colorado's projected rotation consists of Jorge De La Rosa, Chad Bettis, Jordan Lyles, Jon Gray, and Tyler Chatwood. De La Rosa and Bettis each posted ERA+s over 100 (considered average). The bullpen should be improved, because the Rockies also added Jason Motte and Chad Qualls to go along with McGee. It's hard to know how much of a difference all these moves will make, but the Rockies probably won't be in the conversation in the National League this year.
Next up: AL East.
The Padres have a chance to make or break this trade deadline season. They have a lot of movable pieces, some prominent, like Justin Upton, and some not as notable, like Ian Kennedy.
Regardless of what the Padres decide to do, it will have an impact on teams that will be buying at the deadline, for better or for worse. A lot of reports say that the Padres could be major sellers, and with good reason.
The team is 44-49, in third place in the National League West, and still six games out of the second Wild Card race. An offseason full of spending has turned sour.
But, as of late, the Padres have shown the life that was expected of them after new GM A.J. Preller went out and traded for Matt Kemp, Derek Norris, and Justin Upton and signed James Shields.
The team has won five games in a row, which is the best streak in the National League and tied for the best in baseball. In that time, they have averaged 4.2 runs per game, which is a tick above their season average of 3.9. On the pitching side of the ball, they have a 2.60 ERA, much better than their season mark of 3.89.
The Padres should not buy at the deadline. This isn't the year to do it. They probably won't make the playoffs, as Fangraphs says they have just a 6.1 percent chance of playing October baseball.
But should the Padres have a full blown fire sale?
No. This team can win in the future, but that will only come through reinforcements that A.J. Preller could get in a trade.
How is this possible?
The Padres have six impending free agents at the end of the season: Justin Upton, Ian Kennedy, Will Venable, Shawn Kelley, Brandon Morrow, and Josh Johnson. They could trade these players for 25-man roster talent, as the Red Sox did last season when they dealt Jon Lester to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes and Johnny Gomes.
Sure, outside of perhaps Justin Upton, none of these guys are of Lester-type and probably wouldn't give you the biggest of returns, and might not even get them a 25-man roster guy.
However, if the Padres package Upton with Kennedy (or maybe even Venable), then they have created a very formidable package that teams could seriously have interest in. This could allow the other team to give up controllable Major League talent in return.
Then, in the offseason, the Padres could go out and sign a pitcher, in a class that looks to be especially deep, where options like Jeff Samardzija, Bud Norris, or even a reunion with Mat Latos could make sense. Then, the Padres could be looking at an even better shot to contend in 2016 and beyond.
So, should the Padres really be having a fire sale at the 2015 non-waiver trade deadline?
Using Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds, you should be able to tell who has the best chance of doing just that. Teams really should take those odds to determine whether they should be buyers and sellers because more often than not, they are right.
After games being played on July 6 last year, five of the ten eventual postseason teams had a 80 percent chance of making the playoffs or better. Every team that did have an 80 percent or greater chance of making the playoffs on this date last year did.
The team with the highest percent chance to make the playoffs on July 6 that ultimately didn't was the Milwaukee Brewers, who had a 71 percent chance to punch their ticket, but collapsed down the stretch and failed to make it.
Only three (Orioles, Royals, and Pirates) had less than a 50 percent chance of making the playoffs following action on July 6. By July 31, the Orioles were up to a 71 percent chance, the Royals were at a 17 percent chance, and the Pirates were at a 46 percent chance.
Knowing this, I will use Baseball Prospectus' current postseason predictions to determine who should buy and who should sell at the 2015 Trade Deadline.
All In (85% or greater)
St. Louis Cardinals (99.3%)
There's no reason why the Cardinals, who own MLB's best record at 54-28, should consider selling. In fact, Baseball Prospectus says that they have a 99.3 percent chance of making the playoffs, leaving just a very small chance for an extreme collapse. If the Cardinals play just .500 ball the rest of the way, that would put them on pace for 94 wins, which would definitely put them in prime position to punch their ticket to the postseason. The Cardinals have no reason to do anything but buy.
Los Angeles Dodgers (92.9%)
The Dodgers have the second-highest playoff percentage in the league, and nothing suggests that this team won't buy at the trade deadline. I predicted them to go out and get Johnny Cueto, perhaps the best pitcher available not named Cole Hamels. The Dodgers are always willing to spend money and prospects to make their team better and can easily justify doing so at the deadline.
Washington Nationals (85.6%)
The Nationals have arguably not played their best baseball yet, but still have an 85.6 percent chance to make the playoffs. They could use some reinforcements in their bullpen, but most of the additions the Nationals will be getting will be players coming back from injury, such as Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman, and Stephen Strasburg. They may not need to make a ton of moves in July, but if they do, they have good reason to do so.
Houston Astros (84.7%)
The Astros have already shown interest in some of the top pitchers that will be available, and Baseball Prospectus' playoff odds completely backs that up. Houston's playoff percentage, at 84.7 percent, is so close to 85 percent that I had to shove them into this category. The Astros have showed that while they are a bit of a surprise, they still can win ballgames and do it over a period of time. The Astros by no means are "pretenders," as they have been able to hold a comfortable AL West lead since late April.
Should be buyers (70-85%)
Pittsburgh Pirates (81.3%), Chicago Cubs (73.1%)
The Pirates and Cubs have a case of some serious bad luck. They are playing in the National League's toughest division and would be either leading or close to leading any other division in the league. The only reason I'm wary of either of these teams buying at the deadline is because they are not division leaders and have more of a chance to collapse and fall out of the playoff race altogether. Unless they believe they have a real shot at the Cardinals (which it appears they don't), they shouldn't completely unload their farm systems to go out and get the best guy on the market.
Kansas City Royals (75.3%)
Of the three teams in this category, I am most comfortable with the Royals buying at the trade deadline due to the fact that they lead their division by a comfortable margin and need just one or two pieces to really put the pressure on the rest of the division. All signs point to the Royals making the playoffs again this year, so I would go ahead and pencil them in as buyers at the deadline.
Los Angeles Angels (64.8%)
The Angels are in a good position right now. They are playing good baseball and have shown the need for an upgrade in left field. Of the teams listed in this section, I truly believe they are the best and most complete team, so therefore they should be buyers at the deadline. The Angels could use some rotation help as well, but if they patch up a few spots, they will get into the postseason. My verdict? They should be buyers.
AL East: New York Yankees (59.4%), Toronto Blue Jays (39.6%), Tampa Bay Rays (34.9%)
The American League East division is lumped together because the division is so muddled and close that really anyone could win it. Baseball Prospectus' simulations give the Yankees the best chance to go to the playoffs out of that division, but with some rotation help, the Blue Jays are the division's best team. The Yankees and Rays should stand pat or make small moves at the deadline, while the Blue Jays should go out and make a splash for a rotation piece.
Detroit Tigers (36.7%)
With Miguel Cabrera being sidelined with his hamstring injury, I'm going to pencil the Tigers in as should be sellers, but as this team continues to try and make a run once again, they will find themselves trying to buy. The Tigers are heading towards a Phillies-esque fall, and if they don't realize that soon, it could only get worse if they decide to buy at the trade deadline in hopes for one last run at the World Series.
Maybe/Stand Pat (20-30%)
New York Mets (28.9%)
Even if the Mets added an offensive piece, I don't think that would be enough to get them to the playoffs this season. With that said, however, I could see them dealing for a guy with more than one season of control, as their young and talented pitching staff comes into their own. The Mets couldn't justify buying for a rental player, but a guy who is at least signed through 2016 could make sense.
Baltimore Orioles (28.7%)
The Baltimore Orioles have a ton of free agents at the end of the season that they probably should move. The Orioles could be one of those teams that tries to get 25-man roster guys with more years of team control in return. The Orioles could be a team that buys and sells at the trade deadline, and I would be fine with that.
San Francisco Giants (22.9%)
It's an odd year. The Giants aren't good enough to win the NL West, and considering that they have to deal with the Cubs and Pirates for the Wild Card, it will be tough for them to really make a run into the postseason. However, they still have a good core group of guys and the team has proved me wrong before. They probably should stand pat.
Shouldn't buy (Less than 20%)
Minnesota Twins (18.2%)
The Twins just aren't that good. Sure, they had a good run earlier this season, but all the numbers suggest that they were going to fall out of first in the AL Central. The Twins should really try and go for 2016, when some of their rookies will be more polished.
Texas Rangers (15.0%)
While the Rangers shouldn't buy, they probably will, as I consider them to be in a similar boat as the Tigers are in. The Rangers could legitimately contend, but they would more than a couple of upgrades, to the point where they probably shouldn't go for it this season.
Cleveland Indians (13.5%)
The Indians were a popular postseason pick prior to this season, but Baseball Prospectus' simulations show that they would need some serious luck to actually get there. The Indians shouldn't sell any pieces other than the impending free agents because my gut says that they will be back in the postseason sooner than later.
Boston Red Sox (11.8%)
The Red Sox are in a tough position right now. It might not be time for a fire sale quite yet, but it's definitely not time to go out and try and contend this season.
Seattle Mariners (7.0%)
The Mariners have had some issues staying in the race this season, and while they shouldn't sell off their entire team, they really shouldn't be buyers either.
Oakland Athletics (6.8%)
The Athletics are already shopping their pieces and it looks like they will be sellers.
Arizona Diamondbacks (6.4%)
The Diamondbacks are a team that should stand pat. They still have pieces to contend in the near future and as their pitching improves with guys coming back from injury, they could be a legitimate contender coming 2016.
Atlanta Braves (3.8%)
The Braves, especially in the offseason, have committed to becoming a selling team. They don't have any exciting pieces, but even though they have kind of surprised, they should by no means buy.
Chicago White Sox (3.2%)
The White Sox are in a tough position. They reportedly won't have a fire sale, which makes sense considering how much money they spent in free agency, but they need to get rid of Jeff Samardzija and still be planning to try again in 2016.
San Diego Padres (2.7%)
The Padres could buy at the deadline, but in all reality, they shouldn't. They've got some important games coming up that they need to win if people start seriously seeing them as contenders. Once again, they are proving that the winners of the offseason don't necessarily win during the season.
Miami Marlins (1.6%)
The Marlins shouldn't go into a fire sale, but Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Brad Hand, and other free agents at the end of the season should be gone.
Cincinnati Reds (1.1%)
The Reds have Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and possibly Aroldis Chapman available, and while they won't sell until after they host the All-Star Game, I expect it to come, as it should.
Colorado Rockies (0.2%)
I'd pull the trigger and deal Troy Tulowitzki. It's time for a real change in Colorado if they want to be relevant down the road.
Milwaukee Brewers (0.2%)
The Brewers should enter into a fire sale.
Philadelphia Phillies (0.0%)
Now, these rankings and categories don't mean that each of these teams will do as I advise. Their postseason percentages could change and perhaps an addition is all they need to do that. However, Baseball Prospectus' odds are very accurate and should not be taken lightly. Teams really should use them to determine whether they could justify buying at the deadline.