To listen to Scott Boras make the case for Eric Hosmer is not unlike ingesting a sales pitch from a luxury watchmaker.
The utility of an $8,000 timepiece might be somewhat limited compared to a very nice watch in a lesser category. But the craftsmanship of that luxury brand is impressive, and you know, there just might be some intangible value in putting that on your wrist every day. More confidence, perhaps. An elevated sense of self. Maybe some added influence at the office.
“Prestige value,” Boras says on Wednesday morning, standing in the middle of a throng of reporters at the winter meetings at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.
Boras is one of the best agents in baseball, and he is discussing the value of an accomplished, talented 28-year-old first baseman, not watches. But his client remains one of the most polarizing players on the free agent market, a World Series champion and All-Star who draws effusive praise from those in the industry while producing mounds of skepticism from the statistical community. So Boras would like to focus the conversation on the intangible qualities of Hosmer, the stuff not measured in the statistics, the leadership and work ethic and marketability that could drive his price above nine figures this winter.
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In fact, Boras believes we should be measuring this, too.
So “Prestige Value” it is, a metric that can be coupled with WAR, or wins above replacement, and offer the true value of the player. This, at least, is the strategy.
“They know of the skill level of the player, but when the player has ‘prestige value’, it brings tremendous value to his WAR,” Boras said. “So when we talk about WAR, we put the ‘PV’ to it. There are minus players that have minus PV, and there are players that have major-league standard Prestige Value, and players that have a well-above average or elite Prestige Value.”
Boras places Hosmer in the latter category. Yet he is not without a statistical case, too. He set career highs in 2017 while batting .318 with a .385 on-base percentage. Only 11 American League players topped his .882 OPS. He won a World Series championship at the age of 25, delivering clutch moments across two Octobers. And he is still just 28 years old, in the midst of his prime and perhaps poised to break out in a more homer-friendly ballpark.
But his track record is long enough and inconsistent enough that he’s been compared to James Loney and Lucas Duda and other first basemen who would never command more than $100 million in the marketplace. Hosmer is viewed with skepticism because he has been worth just 7.5 wins above replacement in the last four seasons (just more than Duda’s 7.4) and because he has consistently graded out poorly in defensive metrics.
Boras pushes back against the defensive metrics, calling them a “hoax,” as have major-league managers and coaches who have awarded Hosmer four Gold Gloves in his career, including this past season. The debate, however, is a curious one. In the last four seasons, Hosmer has graded out as the fourth-worst defensive first baseman in baseball, according to advanced metrics at FanGraphs.
Yet major-league talent evaluators routinely rate Hosmer as one of the best defensive first baseman in the game.
“I strongly object to the metrics,” said one major-league talent evaluator.
So for now, the debate continues, the argument over Hosmer’s offense and defense and what he should receive this winter. Royals general manager Dayton Moore calls Hosmer “an unbelievable person — great in the clubhouse.” The statistical community looks at his offensive production and his high ground-ball rate and his lack of power and sees value roughly close to Duda’s.
The market for Hosmer will continue to build, with the San Diego Padres, Boston Red Sox and Royals all positioned to bid for his services. Maybe others will emerge. Boras will continue to stump for the intangible value of his client, whether it’s his effect on young teammates, or the way he comforted members of the organization after the death of pitcher Yordano Ventura, or the way he emerged as the face of a collection of players who won two American League pennants and a World Series championship in 2015.
“When you’re a champion at 25,” Boras says, “you’ve won major playoff games, you get key hits when your club is down 7-3 in the postseason — they end up winning those games — you make elite mental moves on every level of the sport, you are there to console, to speak for your organization when they have a tragic event, both for the player’s family (and) the fan base for which he’s playing for, and you also have the result — that proven ‘prestige value’ is when you have a ring on your finger. And you set the tone.”
Hosmer has a ring. He’s set the tone in Kansas City. Will the mega-contract come next?