Thames signs with Japanese club for 2021

Eric Thames went to Asia to resurrect his career once before. He’ll attempt to do it again after signing with a Japanese club Wednesday following his disappointing season with the Nationals.

Thames signed a one-year deal with the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball. He’ll earn roughly $1.2 million, according to Sports Hochi.

That’s a bit of a fall from grace for Thames, who one year ago signed with the Nationals for a guaranteed $4 million in 2020, plus a $4 million mutual option in 2021. The hefty slugger figured to hold a prominent role with the defending World Series champion and perhaps get more at-bats at first base than either Ryan Zimmerman or Howie Kendrick.

Things did not play out nearly as well as Thames or the Nationals hoped.

Thumbnail image for Thames-Swings-White-Sidebar.jpgIn 140 plate appearances over 41 games, he hit a scant .203 with three homers, 12 RBIs and a .617 OPS that was his worst in six major league seasons. Of the 81 batted balls he put into play, he “barreled up” only five of them.

Thames’ struggles were particularly damaging to the Nationals after Zimmerman opted out of the season and Kendrick missed time with a hamstring injury that ultimately forced him to retire.

The Nats made a fairly obvious decision not to pick up Thames’ option in late October, making him a free agent. And they made no real attempt to negotiate a new deal with him, turning their attention toward other potential first basemen.

Last week, the Nationals acquired slugger Josh Bell from the Pirates for pitching prospects Wil Crowe and Eddy Yean, giving themselves a former All-Star as their new first baseman.

Thames, meanwhile, elected to go to Japan rather than wait out a tepid free agent market here this winter. It may feel like a move of desperation, but if it pays off the way his similar decision to play in Korea six years ago did, it will be worth it.

After two nondescript seasons with the Blue Jays and Mariners to begin his career, Thames signed with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization in 2014. He wound up spending three seasons there, blasting 124 homers, driving in 382 runs and showing off his unexpectedly impressive pipes on the Korean version of “The Masked Singer.”

All that - well, the baseball stuff, not the singing - earned Thames a three-year, $15 million contract with the Brewers, and he connected for 31 homers and an .877 OPS in 2017 in Milwaukee.

Now he’ll hope to rediscover his swing with the Yomiuri Giants, who play in Tokyo. If that name sounds familiar, it’s the same team that signed Gerardo Parra last winter.

Maybe Thames’ next musical number will include a baby shark mask.

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