We usually see at least a couple big-money contracts agreed to in Major League Baseball once the calendar flips to January, but this winter has been much different. According to MLB Trade Rumors, the only top-10 free agent to sign so far has been Wade Davis, who just found a new home with the Colorado Rockies last week.
The lack of action up until this point, though, means we’re in for an interesting six weeks leading up to Spring Training. One of the players still in need of a home that will still get paid handsomely is first baseman Eric Hosmer.
Long seen as the projected top earner among available players at his position this winter, the 2015 World Series champion hasn’t exactly seen a robust market pursuing his services. That market also got noticeably smaller a couple weeks ago when the Boston Red Sox re-signed Mitch Moreland to a two-year deal.
Outside of the Kansas City Royals, the San Diego Padres are his most serious suitor, as Bob Nightengale of USA Today reports they have a seven-year offer currently on the table.
He’s Good, But the Concerns
It’s not hard to see why certain analysts anticipate Hosmer to earn $100-plus million this offseason (his association with Scott Boras notwithstanding). He was a clubhouse leader and integral part of the Royals’ consecutive World Series runs in 2014 and 2015. He’s also hit at least 25 homers while driving in 90-plus runs in each of the past two years, with 2017 currently being the high-water mark for his career.
Through 671 plate appearances, the left-handed hitter posted career bests in walk rate (9.8%), ISO (.179), wOBA (.376), wRC+ (135) and fWAR (4.1). He’s a solid player with an even more solid reputation, but some of his peripherals are concerning.
There have only been two instances since 2002 where a player has hit at least 25 home runs with a ground-ball rate above 50.0% and a fly-ball rate below 25.0% in at least 400 plate appearances. Hosmer has been the man behind both these performances. Watching him do it in consecutive years (’16 and ’17) could make some think this is just the kind of hitter he is, but we must also consider the potential situation he’d be walking into at Petco Park.
When looking at Baseball Prospectus‘ park factors by handedness in 2017, Petco was the third-worst stadium for lefties to launch homers. For a guy that must maximize the fly balls he does hit, this makes things difficult — especially considering Hosmer’s hard-hit rate on fly balls went from 50.4% in 2016 to 41.4% in 2017.
Throw in a career-high .351 BABIP on a 29.5% hard-hit rate (his lowest since 2011 as a rookie) and the concerns continue increasing from an offensive standpoint. The Padres, like the Royals, are interested in the whole package — his offense, defense, and intangibles — but an investment of this magnitude typically requires legitimate offense.
The Timing Is Weird
Another thing worth noting is that the Padres are smack in the middle of an organizational rebuild. While they did perform a little better than some expected in 2017, they still finished with a 71-91 record and haven’t won more than 77 games in a season since 2010.
San Diego does have two things working in their favor when looking ahead, though. They are considered one of baseball’s best farm systems and also have money to spend. There is just $7 million on the books for 2019, with Wil Myers being the only player they’re committed to beyond that season.
Potentially agreeing to a contract with Hosmer in the $140 million range seems like a lot — especially for a small market team — and it’d easily be a new franchise record. It does seem like they have the flexibility to make this happen, even if it means potentially having around 40% of their payroll occupied by Hosmer and Myers.
Eventually returning to contention will be even harder after watching three teams in their division — the Los Angeles Dodgers, Arizona Diamondbacks and Colorado Rockies — all make the postseason in 2017. The San Francisco Giants did finish in last place, but they reached the postseason in 2016, have won three titles since 2010 and are expected to continue aggressively re-tooling for 2018.
If Hosmer is brought into the fold, it’s possible he’ll be in town for several years before they have their first legitimate shot at reaching the playoffs. Him entering his age-28 season makes this a little easier to swallow since he’d only be 30 or 31 when the time to compete is potentially here. However, his best years could already be behind him at that point.
None of this hits on the fact that Myers would have to move back to the outfield, which is an area of the diamond where he’s struggled with the glove. He’s been worth 9 Defensive Runs Saved in 2,796 innings at first base, but that number dips to -16 in 1,715.2 innings spent at all three outfield positions.
Some Surprising Competition
The Padres had been leading the way with regard to their interest in Hosmer this winter, and while their reported seven-year, $140 million offer seems like a gross overpay, it’s not the most lucrative deal at his disposal.
Nightengale reported earlier this morning that the Royals — who were reportedly headed for a rebuild — have a seven-year, $147 million deal on the table. In case you’re keeping track, that’d be twice as much as KC’s current franchise record contract, a four-year, $72 million deal awarded to Alex Gordon a couple winters ago (which is just going great, by the way).
The St. Louis Cardinals have also been connected to Hosmer recently, but with two offers of this magnitude already out there, it’s doubtful they’ll be getting into any kind of bidding war.
It makes the most sense for Hosmer to return to Kansas City because he fits there the best. The comfort level is there — he’s already a leader in that clubhouse, has won a World Series with them and has been there his entire professional career. When we combine all that with what appears to be the largest offered guarantee, nobody would fault him for just staying right where he is.
And with regard to the Padres and general manager AJ Preller, this will be a test of their self control — do they get into a bidding war and up their offer, or stay the course and look to make this kind of investment elsewhere? Time will tell what happens, but it looks like we’re getting closer to finding out.
About Matt Musico
Matt Musico currently manages Chin Music Baseball and contributes to The Sports Daily. His past work has been featured at FanDuel Insider, numberFire, Yahoo! Sports and Bleacher Report. He’s a lover of all baseball, especially the Mets.