Did Eric Thames almost replace David Ortiz in Boston?



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It was never going to be easy to move on from David Ortiz Jersey. But before the Boston Red Sox Jersey concluded there was no reasonable way to replace Big Papi’s bat in the middle of the order, they traveled halfway around the world to make sure.

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Last season, as Ortiz was putting up video-game numbers — 48 doubles, 38 homers, a majors-leading 1.021 OPS — in his final major-league season, Red Sox senior vice president of player personnel Allard Baird flew to Changwon, South Korea, to get a look at a slugger who was doing much of the same.

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Thames had fizzled in the big leagues after stints with the , and . But three years ago, he signed with NC Dinos of the Korean Baseball League and became a folk hero. With his bushy beard, bulging biceps, tattooed arms and outgoing personality, he was a sensation in Korea, where he won two league MVP awards and smashed 124 home runs from 2014 to 2016.

Limited Dae-Ho Lee Jersey To put that into perspective, led all big leaguers with 127 homers during that three-year span. , the top slugger on the free-agent market last winter, hit 115. Ortiz hit 110.

Dae-Ho Lee Jersey #10 If the Red Sox were going to replace Ortiz’s production and bring in their payroll beneath the $195 million luxury-tax threshold, Thames might have been their best bet.

Instead, Thames signed a three-year, $16 million contract with the . And the Red Sox turned to free-agent first baseman on a one-year, $5 million deal and shifted their organizational strategy. Rather than trying to replace Ortiz homer for homer in a loaded offense, they focused instead on run prevention, trading for ace lefty Chris Sale Jersey and adding Moreland’s Gold Glove.

Five weeks into the season, Thames is off to a blistering start. Entering this week’s three-game series against the Red Sox, he’s batting .324 and slugging .731 with a .438 on-base percentage, 12 home runs and 22 RBIs in 30 games. The Red Sox, meanwhile, were among the American League’s lowest-scoring teams until last weekend’s binge in Minnesota, when they put up 28 runs and bashed eight homers in back-to-back victories over the Twins.

“What’s been different? I mean, David’s not here. … We’ve got to do it without him. We’re trying. We’re trying to put up good at-bats, trying to get guys on base. But having that ’34’ in the lineup is something that opposing pitchers definitely were afraid of.”

on David Ortiz JerseyRed Sox officials preferred not to discuss their scouting of Thames. Likewise, Thames’ agent, Adam Karon, declined to comment. But multiple major league sources characterized Boston’s interest as “mostly due diligence.” Although they were legitimately intrigued by Thames’ home-run potential, they also believed it would’ve been “a tall task,” according to one source, to bring him back from Korea and have him ostensibly replace Ortiz.

Thames was looking to be paid like an everyday player, even when he hadn’t yet proven he could be one in the big leagues. The Brewers were willing to give him $4 million this season, $5 million next year and $6 million in 2019 with a $7.5 million club option for 2020. He also had one option remaining on his contract, but the Brewers agreed to a clause that he couldn’t be sent to the minors without his permission.

And while not even Brewers general manager David Stearns could have expected Thames’ early-season production, the Red Sox weren’t anticipating such a steep drop-off from Ortiz. It isn’t merely the subtraction of Ortiz’s production. It’s also his presence in the middle of the order and the effect he has on other hitters around him.

“He’s one of those guys — you always knew where Lawrence Taylor was [on the football field]. You always knew where Michael Jordan was on the court — Larry Bird, excuse me,” manager Joe Maddon said recently, playing to a Boston audience. “You always knew where David Ortiz Jersey was in the batting order. So, it’s different.”

The Red Sox have tried not to bring up Ortiz’s absence. Manager John Farrell recently said, “With all due respect to David, his name hasn’t been talked about in our clubhouse.” Well, except when shortstop Xander Bogaerts Jersey was asked recently about the difference between last year’s offense and this year’s.

“What’s been different? I mean, David’s not here,” Bogaerts said. “He’s definitely one of the huge parts of our team for the years that I’ve been here. We definitely miss him. We’ve got to do it without him. We’re trying. We’re trying to put up good at-bats, trying to get guys on base. But having that [No.] 34 in the lineup is something that opposing pitchers definitely were afraid of.”

Indeed, in shuffling the lineup last weekend, Farrell put , and Bogaerts — in that order — atop the batting order, the most common alignment last season. But rather than having Ortiz batting in the cleanup spot, the Sox have given that assignment to rookie Andrew Benintendi, who is 5-for-10 with two doubles, one homer and four RBIs in the No. 4 spot.

“Whether it’s his first exposure to the postseason [last year] to a year removed from a college campus and playing in the big leagues, all of these things have been handled in stride,” Farrell said of Benintendi. “That’s a uniqueness in and of itself, but the talent speaks for itself. He’s a graceful athlete, and he’s a hell of a young player.”

And maybe Benintendi is the player who will finally allow the Red Sox’s offense to move on from Ortiz. But as this week’s series gets underway in Milwaukee, it’s impossible not to think that cleanup spot could have been Thames’ territory if only the Red Sox had taken the plunge.

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