In more than a decade in Kansas City, Royals general manager Dayton Moore has never endured the uncomfortable task of facing off against a player in a salary arbitration hearing. Eric Hosmer will not be the first.
Hosmer, the franchise’s first baseman and long-time front man, agreed to a one-year, $12.25 million contract on Friday, avoiding arbitration and locking him into a deal in his final season before free agency. The contract, which includes a bonus incentive for making the All-Star Game, was agreed to on Friday morning and announced in the early afternoon.
It came after the deadline to exchange arbitration figures, which meant the Royals and Hosmer each offered a salary number. The two sides met somewhere in the middle and $4 million above Hosmer’s 2016 salary.
The Royals still have two arbitration cases to settle. They also exchanged numbers on Friday with left-handed starter Danny Duffy and right-handed reliever Kelvin Herrera, who is set to assume the closer role after the club traded Wade Davis to the Chicago Cubs.
The Royals offered $7.25 million to Duffy, while the left-hander filed at $8 million. The Royals filed at $5.05 million on Herrera, while the reliever countered at $5.6 million. In each case, both sides have until a scheduled arbitration hearing to reach a settlement.
It is possible the Royals could discuss extensions for both players, in an effort to retain two crucial members of their pitching staff for the long term while controlling costs in 2017. Duffy is set to become a free agent after this season, while Herrera has another year of arbitration remaining in 2018. As the offseason has unfolded, the club has continued to discuss a long-term extension with Duffy, who expressed optimism in a deal during a radio interview on 610 Sports on Thursday.
“I’m an optimistic person, sometimes to a fault,” Duffy said. “But I want to be here … so badly. I don’t want to leave.”
The comments echoed those from an interview that Duffy gave to the The Star during his breakout summer in 2016.
“It would just be absolutely devastating if I ever had to leave,” Duffy said then. “In a perfect world, I would be here forever.”
For arbitration-eligible players, the process of exchanging figures can often offer a baseline for extension talks. Moore declined to discuss the negotiations in a phone interview on Friday, citing club policy. But when asked about Duffy’s public comments, he sounded a hopeful tone.
“Any time a player has a commitment to be with an organization, you do everything you can to consummate a deal,” Moore said. “It doesn’t mean it will always work out.”
For now, though, the Royals have agreed to a one-year contract with Hosmer, taking one of their remaining offseason priorities off the board.
The mechanics of a salary arbitration hearing can be awkward, with each side presenting a case to an independent arbitrator as both parties watch in person. Friday’s news guaranteed the Royals won’t have to participate in a hearing with Hosmer, the former first-round pick who developed into a key member of the club’s World Series championship core.
Hosmer previously signed a two-year, $13.9 million contract before the 2015 season. He made $5.65 million in 2015 and $8.25 million in 2016. That contract came in the days before a scheduled arbitration hearing in February and ate up two years of arbitration. But unlike Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain, who signed multi-year deals last season, avoiding arbitration in their final years before free agency, Hosmer was once again eligible for arbitration this offseason.
From one angle, Hosmer enters 2017 coming off one of the best seasons of his career. He hit 25 homers and finished with 104 RBIs in 2016, racking up career highs in both categories. He also started the All-Star Game at first base and earned MVP honors for the game after collecting two hits, including a homer off former Royals pitcher Johnny Cueto.
Yet a closer examination of Hosmer’s season reveals a more muddled picture. After posting a career-high .822 OPS in 2015, Hosmer regressed at the plate in 2016, suffering through an extended slump in the second half. His OPS was .761, just slightly above league average. His on-base percentage declined from .363 to .328, while his batting average fell from .297 to .266.
After the All-Star Game, Hosmer batted just .225 with a .296 on-base percentage and 12 homers. For the season, his ground-ball rate (58.9 percent) was the second-highest in baseball among players who qualified for the batting title.
And yet, Hosmer will still be one of the most coveted Royals free agents in recent memory when the 2017 season concludes this fall. At 27 years old, Hosmer is entering what the Royals believe can be his prime years. He will be 28 in October, reaching free agency at an attractive age. With a strong performance in 2017, he could make a case for a long-term contract in excess of $100 million.
Represented by super-agent Scott Boras, it was always all but guaranteed that Hosmer would eschew any long-term contract discussions and head full-steam toward free agency after 2017. But Friday’s contract is another sign post on that path.
The Royals, for now, will have Hosmer on their roster for at least one more season.