Unless you’ve been living under a rock during the month of April, you’ve most likely caught wind of the buzz surrounding the Milwaukee Brewer’s newest home run machine, Eric Thames. Thames leads the majors in home runs, and ranks in the top ten in batting average (.345), runs scored (28), OBP (.466), slugging (.810), and, much to my enjoyment- walks (18). He’s been featured in the New York Times, passive aggressively accused of steroid use by more than one member of the Chicago Cubs, and has become a household name in Milwaukee after just a month of wearing a Brewer’s uniform. Oh, and have you heard his theme song from his days in Korea? If not, you won’t have to wait long– just enough for Thames to hit another bomb out of Miller Park (or don’t wait and click the link).
Thames has made David Stearns’ controversial off-season decision to pass on Chris Carter look brilliant in hindsight. He’s handling all of the attention, including the steroid allegations and not so random drug testing, with incredible poise and professionalism, joking that “if people keep thinking I’m on stuff, I’ll be here every day — I have lots of blood and urine”. Thames has been nothing short of brilliant for the Brewers during the month of April, likely tipping the scale in the Crew’s favor in a couple of their wins. He’s almost a lock for the NL player of the month, and likely has the attention of every GM in baseball. As such, I feel it’s important for the Sunday Cycle to address the elephant in the room: what should the Brewers do with Eric Thames?
“What do you mean, Rob?! The Brewers are .500, and they’re only .5 games out of a Wild Card spot! They’ve got to keep him! Are you mad?”
No, hypothetical avid Sunday Cycle reader in my head, I’m not mad; I’m trying to be realistic.
Before addressing Thames, we have to take an honest look at this Brewers team a month into the season. On the surface, their 13-13 record seems to suggest that the Brewers could realistically go on a run that would warrant abandoning the rebuild and going all in on the 2017 season. And as much as I would love for that to play out successfully, I’ve watched almost all of these games, and I just don’t see it happening. They’ve got playoff quality bats, but are about two starting pitchers and an entire bullpen away from being a postseason team. The Brewers are going to be the team that is never out of a game because of their home run power, but can never sit tight on a lead, as evidenced by the two four-run leads they blew against the Braves last Friday night.
At some point, the bats are going to cool off, and unless the Brewers pitching staff makes a 180 degree turn for the better, it’s going to be very hard for this team to string together wins consistently enough to stay in the playoff hunt. As Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver said, “Momentum? Momentum is the next day’s starting pitcher”, and I don’t think he was referring to Matt Garza, who is still #theworst, even if he pitched well in his win today.
But would the Brewers really trade Thames? Why not- the Cubs did it (sort of). In 2012, in the first year of their rebuild, the Cubs traded Ryan Dempster at the deadline. Dempster was a clubhouse favorite and was boasting a 2.25 ERA in 16 starts. Fast forward two years later, when the Cubs dealt Jeff Samardzija (2.82 ERA) and Jason Hammel (2.98 ERA) in July to the Oakland A’s. To part ways with potential All Stars seems criminal, until you look at the players that came to Chicago in those deals: Kyle Hendricks (3 earned runs in 24 postseason innings pitched last year) and Addison Russell, who led the Cubs with 9 RBIs in the World Series. The Cubs dealt top talent when their value was at it’s peak, and we all know how that story ended.
Eric Thames is 30 years-old and signed to a three year deal that will cost the Brewers less than they’ll pay Ryan Braun this season alone. He’s the hottest hitter in baseball, and would almost certainly be worth the top pitching prospect of any team looking to make a playoff run this year. So while it pains me to look at a charismatic monster like Thames and say trade him away, I just don’t see the value in letting Thames play out his early 30s on a rebuilding team when he could garner a future World Series starting pitcher in return.
Nobody said this was going to be easy, but I have very vivid memories of Cubs fans trashing Theo Epstein on Facebook when he made the difficult decisions to trade for the future. If David Stearns takes a similar approach with Eric Thames, I’m expecting a full-on meltdown from the majority of the Brewers faithful. As for this senior Brewers writer, I’ll continue to stay patient, dreaming of the World Series that may never come, and shedding a tear or two while listening to my new favorite song for the final time.