Two years ago, the Royals centered their offseason around a beloved and homegrown star who had gone into free agency. They tried hard to sign the player. They made the biggest offer in franchise history and hoped for the best, but they also made a contingency plan.
If the player signed somewhere else, the Royals would do everything they could to protect his stature in the eyes of fans.
They would talk about the player taking a better contract, and claim blame for not doing better, and wish him well. This is a franchise built on love as much as anything else, and the men in charge wanted to preserve as much of it as possible.
That player was Alex Gordon, of course. Royals officials are keeping mostly quiet about their view of why Eric Hosmer turned them down for a contract worth up to eight years and $144 million with the Padres, but it’s worth noting they are still following the playbook created for negotiations with Gordon.
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General manager Dayton Moore has said Hosmer signed the better contract and spent most of a news conference in Arizona this week talking about his accomplishments here.
“We’re forever grateful for his leadership,” Moore said.
Without Royals officials disclosing much — publicly or privately — the details of the Royals’ side of this are a little murky. But through a handful of conversations this week, and a working knowledge of how the organization has operated, here’s the best guess:
▪ Royals owner David Glass didn’t want to do it. This has all the markings of him going skittish at another big contract.
▪ The Padres pushed forward at the end of the negotiation while the Royals pulled back. The Padres won by offering an opt-out clause, which the Royals didn’t want to do because that wouldn’t guarantee Hosmer being around when they’re ready to win again.
▪ That may not have mattered, because while the Royals talked early of a six-year deal with an average annual value near $20 million, the final offer peeled back a little at (presumably) Glass’ direction. That last part is important.
Again, this is all based on varying levels of guesswork. The Padres’ offer is believed to be significantly better than the Royals’ — more years, more guaranteed money, more money upfront and an opt-out.
The shift is worth exploring.
The Royals have always been willing to stretch for their own players, and it should be noted that by all accounts they offered Hosmer by far the biggest contract in franchise history.
But the market played to the Royals’ advantage here in a way that was reminiscent of the path that led Gordon back to the Royals. The Red Sox were widely viewed to have significant interest in Hosmer, same as the Cubs two years ago with Gordon. But then the Red Sox filled their first base need with Mitch Moreland, same as the Cubs did at corner outfield with Jason Heyward.
That created an opening for the Royals, and particularly with the club’s embarrassingly small TV contract set to expire after the 2019 season, they could have found the money.
Let’s be clear. This is about whether the Royals could have, not should have. I happen to believe this type of contract would’ve been bad for the Royals, considering they are barely beginning their rebuild.
But this is absolutely the kind of deal the Royals have done in the past and have branded themselves as investing in. They spent $142 million on contracts for Gordon and Ian Kennedy two years ago. They could have spent the same on Hosmer now.
So, something changed, and not just the Padres coming up with a big offer.
My guess: Glass is already uncomfortable with those deals for Gordon and Kennedy, which have turned out horribly. The Royals owe Gordon $44 million over the next two seasons and Kennedy $49 million over the next three.
Locking into another long-term deal worth $20 million or so per year was a tough sell for the owner, who knows the Royals are likely to lose a lot of games the next few seasons no matter what. He was looking for a way out.
One more time, because I want to be as clear as possible: This is based in part on conjecture.
But the pieces line up. Publicly, the Royals are following the same playbook created two years ago in case Gordon signed somewhere else. They are protecting Hosmer’s image in Kansas City, promoting the success of his time here and labeling their own contract offer as inferior.
The Royals could have matched the Padres’ contract, but didn’t, and whether you agree with their baseball logic or not this represents a change from past strategy and philosophy.
Moore has been clear about what he thinks of Hosmer and the front office’s desire to bring him back as both an example for younger guys and as a baseball player.
That didn’t happen. Something changed. The most logical conclusion is that the owner wanted it that way.
For those of us old enough to remember the meddling of the old days, and who believe the Royals are better off without the commitment required to sign Hosmer, it’s a heck of a situation to think about.