According to USA Today’s Bob Nightengale, free agent Eric Hosmer (and his agent Scott Boras) has received two contract offers. The San Diego Padres are reported to have submitted a contract for seven years and $140 million, while the Kansas City Royals have submitted an offer for the same contract length but $147 million. Nightengale’s report states that Boras wants to secure a contract length of 8-9 years or more, which is ambitious to say the least. The St. Louis Cardinals are also rumored to be involved with Hosmer, but the free agent first baseman’s market appears to be limited to no more than a handful of teams. This minimizes their negotiation leverage, but really it only takes two interested parties to drive up the price of business.
The Padres don’t have a great team on paper for the 2018 season, but they do have one of the deepest prospect talent pools in the game. Hosmer came up alongside guys like Salvador Perez, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Alcides Escobar to form a young core that rose through the organization together and eventually brought a World Series title to Kansas City. He might look at the talent that has recently arrived at the MLB level along with the youth due to arrive over the next few years and see a similar situation brewing. He’s ridden one wave of success and brought home the big prize for a loyal fan base that was starving for glory, this may be an opportunity to catch another wave and be a part of something great.
Having spent his entire career to date in the Royals organization, Hosmer may be inclined to return to the Royals out of loyalty to the only franchise he’s known. Hosmer has surely seen the adoration that Kansas City has for George Brett, who spent his entire Hall of Fame career with one organization. It’s becoming increasingly rare for players to spend their whole career with one team, and this is his chance to make the same kind of commitment that Tony Gwynn made to San Diego. At the same time, the Royals system appears to be in teardown mode as they prepare for the loss of multiple longtime players and the near future is bleak for an organization without a strong minor league system. The Royals appear to be entering a stretch of losing seasons without the likelihood of a return to success before the end of Hosmer’s next contract.
As for the money involved, there is conjecture regarding Hosmer’s perceived value. He’s been an up-and-down player through his career, logging very productive seasons (3.5-4 WAR) in odd years while slumping to near-replacement-level (0.8 in 2014, 1.0 in 2016) in even years. Over the length of whatever contract Hosmer signs, the projected value for free agents is estimated to start at roughly $11m/WAR and inflate over $14m/WAR. For a player who is capable of 4+ WAR seasons, an annual average value of roughly $20m should be a bargain. He’s been remarkably durable his entire career, and it should be reasonable to expect him to produce on average at a level that is “league average” (~2 WAR) or better through the length of his contract. The Padres certainly have the payroll flexibility going forward to handle a $140m+ contract with plenty of room left for future signings. The question is whether his contract would pan out from a market value standpoint.
Hosmer is entering his age-28 season and a seven-year contract would retain him through his age-35 year. The poster boy for aging players with bad contracts is Albert Pujols, but he was still productive through age 35. The challenge here really has to do with forecasting Eric Hosmer’s aging curve. He is coming off his best season ever, and for good reason, as most ballplayers peak around age 26 or 27. History has shown that players begin to decline in their late 20’s and the drop becomes more dramatic the further they go into their 30’s. If his 4-WAR age-27 season really was his high water mark, then averaging 2 WAR or more over the next 6+ years may be a bit optimistic.
There’s reason to believe that there is more production than he showed last year. Hosmer has been a notoriously prodigious groundball hitter, and the “launch angle revolution” has shown that there’s great value in putting the ball in the air. If Hosmer can somehow alter his approach from being one of the most groundball-prone hitters in the game and start lifting the ball more, he may stand to make a similar leap as Yonder Alonso did last year, only starting from a higher baseline. He’s an athletic player, especially for a first baseman, but a shift from groundballs to more flyballs should help him maintain production as his speed begins to leave him.
As Joe alluded to the other day, it’s been a long December and there’s reason to believe maybe this year will be better than the last. The MLB offseason has been eerily quiet as it seems that owners are ganging up against free agents, hoping that the long wait for action will entice players to accept shorter contracts for less money. If the strategy works in the Padres favor, we may see a new man on first base next year, and the contract might not be as cringe-worthy as we thought it might be. Adding a left-handed power bat to the lineup and a veteran presence (read that as “Prestige Value”) in the dugout would represent an immediate upgrade. Eh, who are we kidding? He’ll just go back to KC and become a part of the Royals royalty. That’s what we’ve been accustomed to as Padres fans, and I’m resigned to that fate. Wil Myers 4 prez 2018!
Dennis Lin disagrees with Bob Nightengale’s report:
The Padres, as previously reported, have offered Eric Hosmer seven years, but I hear their bid is actually lower than $140 million.— Dennis Lin (@sdutdennislin) January 3, 2018