General manager Dayton Moore on Wednesday declined to comment on a report that indicated the Royals have made an aggressive offer to free agent Eric Hosmer.
In a story in USA Today, reporter Bob Nightengale said Kansas City has offered a seven-year, $147 million contract to Hosmer. Citing anonymous sources close to Hosmer, the report said that the Royals’ offer was $7 million more than a seven-year, $140 million deal offered by the San Diego Padres, another small-market team in pursuit of the 28-year-old first baseman.
It was unclear whether those offers included any opt-out provisions or no-trade clauses. In addition, Royals officials would not privately confirm the existence of such an offer, lending creedence to the possibility of an inflated number. The Padres’ offer to Hosmer, for instance, was reported to be lower than $140 million, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
“It’s inappropriate for me to comment,” Moore said, citing standard club policy on free-agent negotiations. “I won’t comment on hypothetical situations or details or anything like that.”
The Royals, however, have viewed Hosmer as their top priority since the start of the offseason, believing a long-term deal for their first baseman could fit within the club’s plans for a long-term rebuild. That stance has appeared unchanged during a winter that has been defined by a slow-moving and tepid free-agent market. Yet the club’s ability to re-sign Hosmer hinged on myriad factors, including the development of the market and ownership’s willingness to hand out the largest contract in franchise history.
The terms of the reported offer would represent an average annual value of $21 million dollars per year and double the largest expenditure in franchise history, a four-year, $72 million contract given to Alex Gordon following the 2015 season.
If the contract offers from the Royals and Padres remain on the table, Hosmer has yet to move on either deal. He could be seeking a longer contract or a more significant financial package. He could be waiting to see if other suitors emerge.
Yet the market for Hosmer, a Gold Glove first baseman with a World Series ring, has been slow to develop after the Boston Red Sox appeared to pass.
The Red Sox signed first baseman Mitch Moreland to a two-year contract last month and other suitors, outside of the Padres, have failed to materialize. Many big-market clubs with the money to land Hosmer already possess franchise first basemen. That list includes the Los Angeles Dodgers, Chicago Cubs and Toronto Blue Jays. The Yankees, meanwhile, appear willing to move forward with former top prospect Greg Bird at first base after spending significant dollars in a trade to acquire outfielder and reigning NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton.
One club that is seeking to add is the St. Louis Cardinals. Yet their interest level in Hosmer remains unclear. And Hosmer, of course, remains a somewhat contentious free agent, his value on paper and according to advanced metrics not quite matching his perceived value in the marketplace.
His agent, Scott Boras, has built a case on “prestige value,” citing Hosmer’s leadership skills, his marketability and his track record of winning in addition to his performance. Baseball’s sabermetrics community, on the other hand, has pushed back against Hosmer’s status as a star.
In some ways, the Royals’ pursuit of Hosmer comes at a peculiar time. After finishing 80-82 in 2017 and missing the playoffs for a second straight year, Kansas City entered an offseason in which Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas, center fielder Lorenzo Cain and shortstop Alcides Escobar all became free agents for the first time.
As the Royals officials discussed a path forward, they came to a couple simple conclusions. Their pitching staff was not strong enough to warrant another push to contend in 2018. Their farm system needed a reboot after years of poor drafting and trades that diminished their prospect pool.
So as Moore arrived at the Winter Meetings last month in Orlando, he signaled the start of a long and thorough rebuild, stating: “We have to build our farm system at the level we had it in 2010; that is the focus of this organization as we sit here today.”
With the farm system the focus, the Royals appeared willing to walk away from Moustakas and Cain. The calculus appeared simple: While Moustakas, 29, and Cain, 31, have also been at the center of uncertain markets this winter, the Royals see Hosmer, 28, as a safer long-term investment, a cornerstone player who can serve a front-facing role in the clubhouse and potentially remain productive until the club is ready to contend again in 2022 or beyond.
There is inherent risk in a potential deal, of course. All baseball contracts are fully guaranteed, and as the Royals found out with Gordon, a bad free-agent deal can handcuff a small-market franchise where money is quite finite.
The Royals, though, are set to see a sizable increase in team revenue when their current under-market local television contract expires in 2019. Another bonus: The club, along with every team in Major League Baseball, is reportedly set to receive a cash payment of $50 million or more after the league sold a controlling stake in its technology arm — BAMTech — to Disney last year.
Still, the Royals could seek to clear salary to make room for Hosmer in 2018, even if the deal is significantly backloaded. The club is seeking to trim payroll to close to $110 million or $115 million after carrying club-record payrolls in 2016 and 2017.
The Royals see value in retaining Hosmer, a homegrown star who served as a pillar during two World Series runs and a world championship. Yet they also see it as a baseball decision. The addition of Hosmer would be unlikely to change the course of a franchise rebuild. The club would be likely to lose — and lose big — in 2018 and 2019. But as the offseason began, that reality did little deter to club officials from pursuing Hosmer.
For now, it appears the pursuit is still on.