Finally, some news: Ken Gurnick of dodgers.com reports that the club is close to an agreement with free agent outfielder Marcus Thames. (Dylan Hernandez followed up by saying that the deal is done, and that Gabe Kapler will be signing a minor-league deal.) Gurnick also mentions Eric Chavez, though I’d have to think that signing Thames wouldn’t necessarily prevent signing Chavez as well.
This isn’t the first we’ve heard about Thames, of course; he’s been linked to the Dodgers for over a month now. Back in December, his name first came up along with Jerry Hairston and Scott Hairston. At the time, I preferred Thames:
Marcus Thames cannot be your everyday left fielder; his defense is just too poor. But let’s not pretend as though the team doesn’t have a need for right-handed bench power, especially in late innings against tough lefties. When the other side brings in their LOOGY, do you really want Tony Gwynn up there? Andre Ethier? You can’t bring Jay Gibbons off the bench for that, and Jamey Carroll‘s not a great option either. A righty with some power is a good option to have. Now, can Thames be that? I’d be willing to find out.
Since then, I’ve been swayed a bit more towards Scott Hairston, who offers plus defense but suffered through an absolutely terrible 2010, though I’ve still been clear about my preference for Lastings Milledge.
Interestingly enough, R.J. Anderson of Rays blog The Process Report just so happened to look at right-handed outfielders earlier today, and not only were Hairston, Thames, and Milledge included, so was Kapler, who at 34 had a .578 OPS in 140 injury-plagued Tampa plate appearances last year. (Please try to ignore the fifth name on his list.)
If the goal with Jones is to add an upside play, then the remaining options of right-handed corner outfielders who pound lefties will not spawn the same levels of attraction. In fact, the best option remaining might be an old friend by the name of Gabe. Kapler has easily outhit the remaining choices over the last three seasons versus lefties, with a few low-cost options in hot pursuit:
(Jermaine Dye is not included since he’s really not much of an outfielder, even less so than Thames)
Unfortunately, Kapler might fall to the rare career-ending ankle sprain, which leaves Hairston, Thames, and Milledge out there for perusal. Of those, Hairston is the best and provides the most defensive flexibility. It is also worth noting that he produced those numbers while playing in San Diego and Oakland, where arctic conditions greet offensive expeditions. Thames spent last season with the Yankees and has some experience at first base (44 games worth, Jones has eight, for comparison) while Milledge was playing poor defense and running the bases unimpressively with the Pirates.
So it seems the Dodgers have come up with the #1 and #3 options on the list, based on performance vs. LHP over the last three years.
At this point, I think any arguing one way or the other is just nit-picking. Thames is coming off the best 2010. Hairston is the most complete package, yet was awful last year. Milledge probably has the most raw talent, yet hasn’t been able to put it all together and has had disciplinary issues. Kapler’s had the most success against LHP in recent years, yet was injured and lousy in 2010. It’s almost a toss-up as far as I’m concerned, because you just can’t be sure who’s going to give you what in 2011. If anything, we should at least be happy that they’ve brought in a righty outfielder… even if it was the team’s own odd roster management that put them in this situation.
So if you’ve come here looking to see if I hate the idea of Thames, then no, I don’t. I hate that this is the best the Dodgers are going to be able to do; I hate that with every passing day the idea that much is riding on Tony Gwynn hitting enough to win the CF job. I think there’s good arguments to be made for preferring Hairston or Milledge, yet I can’t complain too much about getting a guy who has an .820 OPS and 94 homers over the last five years (assuming the money is small).
Really, this is going to be determined by Thames’ usage. If he’s a lefty-killing specialist who is 80% off the bench and 20% in left field, that’s useful enough. If he’s penciled in to a strict platoon role where he gets a goodly amount of playing time in the field, that’s an enormous problem. Thames is one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball, and as tenuous as the idea of a Jay Gibbons / Matt Kemp / Andre Ethier outfield might be, putting Thames in LF alongside Kemp and Ethier would be atrocious, to the point that it might be the worst fielding trio in the game. This is going to be another test for Don Mattingly, and we’ll have to see how he handles that.
Oh, and one last thing: not that we didn’t already expect it, but this should basically seal Xavier Paul‘s departure from Los Angeles.