What Went Right: Mr. Thames To You

Report: 'No chance' Greinke would accept trade to NY
Finding Thames version 2011
(AP Photo)

As the 2009-2010 offseason played out, it became increasingly clear that the Yankees needed some sort of righthanded bat to balance out their lefty heavy outfield. Nick Swisher wasn’t the problem since he’s a switch hitter, but the newly acquired Curtis Granderson had significant trouble against southpaws in recent years (.267 wOBA vs. LHP from ’08-’09) and Brett Gardner was still a complete unknown at the time. Enter Marcus Thames.

The former Yankee farmhand agreed to a minor league contract in early February that granted him an invitation to Spring Training, at which point he’d have to compete for job against the likes of Rule 5 Draft pick Jamie Hoffmann, Greg Golson, and David Winfree. Thames didn’t perform well during camp at all (.135/.182/.269 in 52 at-bats), but the Yankees preferred his experience and power to whatever the younger guys had to offer. If you’re going to go for experience over youth, a bench/platoon spot isn’t a bad place to do it.

Thames started the season in a platoon with Gardner (not Granderson, contrary to what we all expected) and played in only two of the team’s first eight games. He got a start at designated hitter in the ninth game of the season, going 2-for-3 with a double in a win against the Angels. That earned Marcus another start the next day, which resulted in another two hits, and before you knew he finished the month with a .588/.650/.941 (.666 wOBA) in 20 trips to the plate. Thames kept hitting so Joe Girardi kept giving him starts through the month of May.

The Yanks started play with a 24-13 record on May 17th, certainly a dynamite record, but they hadn’t had one of those big remember-why-you-love-’em wins yet. Thames gave New York just that when he completed a ninth inning comeback against Jonathan Papelbon by following Alex Rodriguez‘s game-tying two-run homer with a walk-off two-run homer of his own. Brought in to mash lefties, he also was getting the job done against righties, and that homer won him a place in the heart of every fan.

Mr. Thames to you. (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

After a bum hamstring sidelined Thames for close to a month, he returned on Independence Day and provided an instant jolt to the team’s offense. He pinch hit for Ramiro Pena in the tenth inning of a tie game against the Blue Jays, driving in the winning run with a walk-off broken bat single. Not bad for a welcome back moment, eh? A few weeks later he helped the Yanks mount a comeback win against Cliff Lee and the Rangers by whacking a solo homer in the eighth before driving in the go-ahead run with a single in the ninth.

Thames’ role became more and more prominent as the season progressed. He hit .342/.384/.671 (.438 wOBA) after returning from the disabled list through September 1st, after which he and the newly acquired Lance Berkman went into a straight platoon at DH. All told, Marcus hit .288/.350/.491 (.365 wOBA) with a dozen homers in 237 plate appearances on the season, filling the role of platoon bat perfectly. He did his job against lefties (.354 wOBA) and was even better than expected against righties (.382).

Of course, we can’t forget the horror show that was Thames’ outfield defense. He played just 171 innings in the outfield all season, but he managed to cost the team more than four runs defensively. It seemed like a helluva lot more, I know that much. The most notable blunder came a day after the walk-off homer against Papelbon, when Thames botched a fly ball in right that led to a pair of unearned runs in the ninth and an eventual loss. Thankfully Girardi wised up, and Thames’ days as a regular outfielder were finished after he came back from the disabled list.

Mighty Marcus Thames was everything the Yankees hoped he would be and then some, giving them pop off the bench and later on, production in a damn-near every day role. As far as gambles on minor league deals go, the Yankees hit the jackpot with this one.

Report: 'No chance' Greinke would accept trade to NY
Finding Thames version 2011
  • http://twitter.com/cephster Ross in Jersey

    Bring him back! I doubt he’ll have the same luck against righties, but if he can maintain his production against lefties then he’s worth keeping around on the cheap.

  • larryf

    “Pop” off the bench is about the only role I can see for Marcus. With Montero’s bat he will be less needed. By all means, Thames over Kearns!

  • http://www.twitter.com/jordansmed JGS

    No mention of his Brooks Robinsonesque third base?

  • Ellis

    They calllll me Mister Thames!

  • Accent Shallow

    Thames was great, but he’s no spring chicken. It’s tough to advocate bringing a guy his age back in a limited role, the cliff may be right there.

  • Frank

    I like Thames and he obviously had a nice year, but I’d rather wait it out and see how the FA market plays out. Hopefully, a better RH option, who is younger, more athletic and can also play defense, will become available at a reasonable cost.

    • Klemy

      Exactly my thoughts on this.

    • Clay Bellinger

      Those guys typically spend their time in starting lineups.

      • Klemy

        Good point.

        I think I just have trouble believing we’ll get another year of the same performance out of him. I’m curious also if he’s looking for more of a full time gig this year, after the numbers he put up.

        • Clay Bellinger

          I’d like to see him back, but I agree with you.

          He has every right to look for a place that offers more playing time, and to cash in on his solid season. His very high BABIP suggests that his numbers are due to drop off. He’s horrendous defensively though, so an NL team would be taking a risk on him and it kinda limits his options.

          If we can have him back at a reasonable price – great. He’d at the least provide some power off the bench. I’m curious to see what interest he generates around the league though.

      • pat

        Not to mention a guy like that wouldn’t want to play once or twice a week only against lefties.

    • larryf

      I know we are in love with the long ball but we have 3 catchers who hit right handed and Golson. Younger, athletic, great defender but gosh darn it, he won’t hit 15 HR’s!

      • whozat

        It’s cool, don’t bother to look at how well Thames actually hit or got on base. He just hit homers, it’s true.

        Also, ignore that one of those catchers is useless offensively and another is 20 with no MLB experience. Also, it’s totally cool to ignore that Golson also won’t hit for average or get on base, and that we actually have a really good defensive outfield already.

        You’re basically arguing that the upgrade from Swisher’s D to Golson’s in the 9th innings of games with a tiny lead is worth more than an actual hitter. That makes no sense.

        • larryf

          the useless offensive catcher hit .300 against lefties and is 24. The no MLB experience catcher I have seen several times and is our best righty power prospect in a generation. Golson is young and I am not willing to close the book and permanently label a guy like him. Golson hit a double off the LF wall against David Price. A little experience and playing time might actually lead to improvement and some pop in his bat.

          • Colombo

            Golson hitting a double off Price dictating he should be the right handed DH is akin to Torre’s obsession of starting Enrique Wilson against Pedro.

            It just makes no sense. Everybody gets a lucky hit once in a while. Everyone gets the really fat part of the bat on the ball every now and then. Ramiro Pena hit a HR two years ago!! It can happen.

  • Fair Weather Freddy

    Can a guy like Brandon Laird fill Thames’s role?

    • whozat

      Maybe in a few years.

  • Brian in NH

    Only bring Thames back if he’s cheap. He’ll try and get a better deal on the market, but the market for a guy like this is flush with guys (righty bench bats with pop, terrible defense).

  • kosmo

    No reason Laird can´t fill Thames´ role in 2010.He´s currently playing LF in the AFL.Of course experiments can fail.

    My feeling is Thames will never be better than he was in 2010.He´ll just revert back to his norm.High SO low average who hits OK against lefties and can´t play the field.

  • http://yesnetwork.com Jim

    Maybe my Yankee viewing was distorted here on the West Coast. Thames: 1) Couldn’t play the outfield 2) Couldn’t run 3) Was I the only one to see him meekly strike out more than a few times with runners in scoring position as a pinch hitter. 4) 0 – 4 4k’s. 5) How many of those hits were weak seeing eye Jeter’s through the infield About the only two positives is he missed only a month so he is better than Nick the Quick end to a season, and he did lead the team in pies. The real shame is that until Berkman, he was the only answer on the bench. If he plays a part in 2011, Joe Girardi will be able to rest his players as often as he wants because they won’t be in the playoffs.

    • http://kierstenschmidt.com Kiersten

      Yeah, no.

    • larryf

      this. he is one dimensional but there is a section for that in the binder!

    • Mike HC

      He is a part time DH, so I’m not exactly trumpeting him as the MVP, but your view is definitely distorted. He did exactly what he was paid for and brought in here to do, and then some. He is a part time, fill in player. In his 237 PA’s, he had an .841 OPS. If he can repeat that for the Yanks in 2011, I would do handstands while watching him in the playoffs again.

  • Mike HC

    Can’t praise this signing enough. He was an absolute machine against lefties. Also, what a fun, great guy to root for. I hope we bring him back.

  • http://baseball.dailyskew.com Damian

    Bottom line is Marcus earned another year in pinstripes, even if he tanks in 2011.

  • https://twitter.com/Carcillo_ Carcillo

    Both photos are from the August 30 game against Oakland.

    You know, that’s an underrated game reflecting on this season. It was the third win in the Yankees longest winning streak of 2010, it propelled the Yankees to a four game sweep of Oakland (their only four game sweep of 2010), and in that particular game, Thames home run put out of a reach a game the Yankees were trailing 3-0 before they even came up to hit. Oh, and it was Trevor Cahill on the mound for Oakland, not an easy task.

    Really, an awesome game to think back on. I guess it’s a little more easily remembered just because once that eight game streak ended, the Yankees ended the season in the fucking tank. Add that eight game streak to their final 34 games of the season, and it still only adds up to a 17-17 record.