The New York Mets have made little secret of their desire to upgrade over Dominic Smith at first base. Smith, who failed to hit and struggled with pretty much everything after making his big league debut, has essentially been told he will have to win his job in spring training. The Mets have been linked to pretty much every free agent first base type under the sun, including Jay Bruce, Logan Morrison, Adam Lind, and Carlos Santana. That list can be expanded by one as the Mets have weighed a pursuit of the top free agent on the market, former Royals’ first baseman Eric Hosmer, FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman reports.
Hosmer, 28, had a career year for the Royals in 2017. In 162 games for Kansas City, Hosmer batted .318 with 25 home runs and 94 RBI’s to go along with 31 doubles. Hosmer does have some negative attributes, such as his poor defensive skills, but he has drawn tremendous praise for his leadership abilities as well. The Royals are expected to make a big push to re-sign Hosmer, who has already drawn interest from several other teams, including the Boston Red Sox. One Mets’ official told Heyman that the team’s chances of landing Hosmer were “a long shot”, which makes sense given the rumors that he is seeking a $200 million contract. MLB Trade Rumors projects that Hosmer will land a six year deal worth $132 million, which still appears to be far outside of the Mets’ preferred price range.
Mets’ General Manager Sandy Alderson has long been hesitant to offer contracts of more than four years to any player, with one notable exception. Alderson signed third baseman David Wright to an eight year contract extension prior to the 2013 season, and that deal has completely burned the Mets with Wright barely playing due to a series of injuries. While that deal is unfortunate, the Mets shouldn’t write off interest in Hosmer due to one bad experience with a long term deal. If the market reaches the point that Hosmer gets a $200 million deal, the Mets would be wise to say thanks, but no thanks. If Hosmer ends up having to settle for a deal closer to the MLB Trade Rumors projection, there is no reason why the Mets shouldn’t get involved in the bidding.
While Smith has a ton of long term potential, he is still likely at least a year away from being a significant contributor to a winning team. Hosmer is arguably the best free agent hitter on the market, and he would help the Mets immensely by providing production and leadership. A six year deal would carry Hosmer through his age 34 season, meaning that the Mets would get his prime years without getting stuck paying an older player huge sums of money. Signing Hosmer would also allow the Mets to use Smith, who is still a valuable trade chip, to address another area of the roster that needs improvement, like the outfield or second base. If the Mets believe that Michael Conforto will be healthy enough to play center field, they could deal Smith and Juan Lagares to help land another impact player.
This is the type of creative thinking the Mets will need to employ this winter, particularly if Alderson is only operating with $40 million or so to improve the roster. Signing Hosmer would take a large chunk of that money, but the Mets could make the money work by shifting more money into the back end of the deal. The Mets have very few long term contracts on their books, with the two longest deals (for Wright and Yoenis Cespedes) both expiring after the 2020 season. A six year deal for Hosmer would carry him through the 2023 season, allowing the Mets to back load the deal and pay him a lower base salary now (say $12 million) in exchange for higher salaries in the back end of the contract (think at least $20 million a year from 2021-2023). Trading Lagares, who is due to make $15.5 million over the next two years, would also allow the franchise to add more players now without really jeopardizing their long term finances.
The Mets rarely make a big splash in free agency these days, but Hosmer might be worth an exception to Alderson’s rule. Hosmer is an impact player in his prime at a position the Mets have a major need, with a winning track record to boot. The Mets have already drawn criticism from their fan base due to their perceived cheapness, so signing Hosmer would shut up those criticisms. Alderson has always hedged his bets and hasn’t truly gone “all in” on a single year since taking over as GM, but signing Hosmer would be a great opportunity for the Mets to go for broke in 2018.