A few minutes before 11:30 a.m., Eric Hosmer strapped a backpack across his expansive wingspan and sauntered out of the Kansas City Royals clubhouse. He was prepared to occupy a unique place in franchise lore, as the first player under the watch of general manager Dayton Moore to undergo an arbitration hearing.
Instead, when Hosmer returns to action later this week, he will be the recipient of a two-year, $13.9 million contract. He will be eligible for arbitration again after 2016. He can become a free agent after the 2017 season.
Hosmer, the two-time Gold Glove first baseman, planned to fly on Wednesday afternoon to Tampa, Fla. His hearing was scheduled for Thursday. His schedule changed as his representatives bridged an initial $2.1 million gap in salary for 2015 with the Royals.
Hosmer will earn $5.65 million in 2015, and $8.25 million in 2016. The settlement allowed Moore to retain his perfect record of avoiding hearings. These are awkward affairs, with the player forced to listen to team officials explain to an independent arbitrator why the player does not deserve the salary he seeks.
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“It’s definitely not going to be fun,” Hosmer said with a laugh on Wednesday morning. He appeared perturbed that the hearing would disrupt his workout schedule in Surprise, and indicated he was “definitely” frustrated by the prospect of cross-country travel. He arrived here the day before the Super Bowl, flying from Kansas City after spending time at the club’s FanFest.
“I’ve been out here for two, three weeks now,” he told The Star on Wednesday morning. “You get that routine going every day. You really don’t want to break that routine, or miss any days. It would be a lot easier if it was in Arizona. But now it’s halfway across the country. I guess it is what it is.”
The two sides exchanged salary figures last month. Hosmer sought $6.7 million. The Royals countered with $4.6 million, a raise of $1 million from his salary in 2014. His salary for 2015 is the exact midpoint between the two figures.
Moore did not respond to a message seeking comment. He was said to be flying to Arizona on Wednesday. He is expected to address reporters on Thursday afternoon.
The dispute represented the lone hint of strife at an otherwise placid camp. With a settlement now in hand, Hosmer’s new contract serves as a reminder about how difficult it may be for the Royals to retain him as he approaches free agency.
Hosmer turned 25 in October, in the midst of his sterling performance in the playoffs. He hit .351 with six extra-base hits during that 15-game span, complete with a .983 on-base plus slugging percentage. He resembled the star the Royals hoped to groom when they drafted him with the third-overall pick in 2008.
During four big-league seasons, he has only shown that ability in flashes. He finished 2014 with a career-low nine home runs and a career-low 58 RBI. He posted a .716 OPS, an 85-point reduction from the previous season’s mark. He also missed a month with a fractured hand. The injury caused his first stint on the disabled list in his career.
As 2015 approaches, Royals officials hope Hosmer can blossom into an All-Star and utilize the talent he displayed en route to the World Series. If he fulfills his potential, he also could elevate his price out of the Royals’ price range. His salary will likely leap into an eight-figure sum for 2017, and then the riches of free agency await him as a 28-year-old potentially in his prime.
As Hosmer creeps closer to open waters, his teammates will also see their salaries rise. Much of the team’s core is currently reaping the benefits of arbitration, with Greg Holland, Danny Duffy, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas all receiving substantial raises for 2015.
The club settled eight of their nine cases before the start of camp. The accumulation of dollars helped push the Royals’ payroll past a new franchise record of $110 million. Holland, the latest man to settle, netted the largest salary, an $8.25 million sum that should jump into eight figures for 2016.
After 2016, Hosmer should also reach that lofty range. On Wednesday, he avoided the acrimony awaiting him at the hearing and solidified his earning potential for the future.