A title defense for the Nationals was always going to require someone who packs a punch in the middle of the lineup next to Juan Soto, a need exacerbated when Anthony Rendon packed his bags for Anaheim.
The Nationals are still hopeful they can bring Josh Donaldson to D.C., but they continued their offseason of Plan B by signing free-agent first baseman Eric Thames to a one-year deal worth $4 million with a mutual option for 2021.
Thames will earn $3 million in 2020, and his second year will be worth $4 million with a $1 million buyout, according to MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.
Since returning to the Major Leagues in 2017 after a four-year hiatus to play internationally, Thames has hit 72 home runs and driven in 161 runs with a .241/.343/.504 slash line -- all with the Brewers. Over that span, his 118 wRC+ is tied for 19th among qualified first baseman and his .355 wOBA ranks 11th.
Thames gives the Nationals a burst of left-handed power to go along with Soto in the mid-to-latter half of their lineup. He also represents the club’s initial first baseman signing this offseason, setting up the potential of a platoon with free agent Ryan Zimmerman, with whom the club has been in contact. Howie Kendrick is also a candidate to get time at first base.
Thames also has some ability to play the outfield if the need arises. The 33-year-old has spent almost as many innings in the outfield (1,790) as he has at first base (1,855 1/3) over his five-year Major League career, though most of those came before he spent the 2013-16 seasons out of the Majors and overseas.
As the Donaldson decision looms, the Nats have not sat idly. Thames is the third infielder signed in the last week, joining Asdrubal Cabrera and Starlin Castro, who have reportedly agreed to one- and two-year deals, respectively.