It was never going to be easy to move on from David Ortiz. But before the Boston Red Sox 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.
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.
And make no mistake, Eric Thames was intriguing.
Thames had fizzled in the big leagues after stints with the Toronto Blue Jays, Seattle Mariners and Houston Astros. But three years ago, he signed with NC Dinos of the Korean Baseball League. Then he 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.