After the Cubs signed pitcher Yu Darvish last week, agent Scott Boras declared, “free agency has begun.”
Some may have scoffed at that notion, but after a chilly offseason, things heated up on Saturday when former Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer agreed to an eight-year deal with the San Diego Padres.
The news broke late — around 10 p.m. — but it sent a shock wave through baseball.
Here is what people around the nation were saying about the deal.
▪ CBS Sports’ Mike Axisa had a story with the headline, “Padres sign Eric Hosmer: What it means for Hosmer, Padres, Royals and Red Sox.”
With all due respect to the Miami Marlins, I’m not sure that any team is worse off long-term than the Royals. They lost Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain to free agency this offseason and still might lose Mike Moustakas as well. Baseball America says they have the second-to-worst farm system in baseball. The projections at both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus see the Royals as a true talent sub-70 win team in 2018. The MLB roster is bad and the farm system is bad. At least the Marlins traded their top guys for some talent.
The Royals seriously pursued Hosmer and, had they re-signed him, it would’ve been tempting to try a quick fix retool to get back into contention while he is still in his prime. Nothing wrong with that. There’s something to be said for trying to win in an age where one-third of the league is rebuilding. That said, the Royals are in bad shape right now, and the best thing for the team long-term is to rebuild. Move on from Hosmer, Cain, and Moustakas and develop the next championship core. Re-signing Hosmer would’ve complicated things. Now the Royals know without question the path they must take.
▪ Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote a story with the headline, “The Padres must think they’re not far away.”
It was strange that Hosmer wound up having to pick between the Padres and the Royals to begin with. Neither team is competitive, and good free agents tend to sign with better teams. And given the choice, it would’ve been easy to see Hosmer sticking with what he knows. He’s always been with Kansas City. He’s won with Kansas City. The people there love him. He could be a franchise icon, the rare one-team player. I don’t know Eric Hosmer, so I don’t know why he picked the Padres, but maybe he just wanted a change. He’s already been a leader through one rebuild; maybe he simply thinks the Padres are closer to emerging from theirs. The Royals might be down for a while yet. Hosmer might see the Padres on the rise.
▪ Chris Russo said on the MLB Network that the deal shows people in San Diego that the Padres are committed to the city.
▪ Bryce Miller of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote a column with the headline, “Deal with Eric Hosmer signals the end of the Padres front office of old.”
One other interesting wrinkle that also signals the times might be a-changin’: The Padres engaged in that dangerous financial game of chicken known as “negotiating with Scott Boras.”
It’s not impossible to imagine Boras being tied in knots about such a unique, front-loaded deal for his client Hosmer, who will earn $20 million per season for the first five years of the deal. Then it dips to $13 million for each of the remaining seasons, if Hosmer decides against exercising an opt-out option after Season 5.
I questioned the wisdom of a deal of that length for that type of money for one player at this point on the rebuild timeline. Still do. The point, though, is that the Padres are willing to mix it up at a higher level and think creatively how to chart a path.
By front-loading the deal, there’s potentially more money available at the end to start locking up this youth movement on the way before all of them are arbitration eligible.
In plain speak: Hosmer might not get them to the finish line, but his deal is structured in a way so a whole bunch of other home-grown players might.
▪ USA Today’s Jorge L. Ortiz wrote a story with the headline, “Eric Hosmer’s signing sends a message: ‘The Padres are very serious’ ”
In exchange for the largest financial commitment in franchise history, Hosmer is expected to eventually guide the team to elite status with both his performance and his highly regarded clubhouse presence, especially his influence on young players.
Hosmer, 28, was not only a four-time Gold Glover who averaged 25 homers and 99 RBI over his last two seasons in K.C., but also emerged as a respected team leader. His RBI double and daring baserunning sparked the ninth-inning comeback that helped the Royals secure a Game 5 win to clinch their first World Series crown in 30 years.”
▪ Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports wrote a column titled, “Padres are more than a player away from being a good baseball team.”
Here’s where we point out the Padres were not on Saturday — and are not on Sunday, and will not be on Monday — a player away from being a good baseball team. Though we are sure the Padres will get it right one day, it doesn’t mean they will win that day. Or even the next. Hosmer is coming off his best offensive season. If he replicates that — in a pitchers’ park, in a pitchers’ division, in a new league — the Padres will not be a frightening offensive team. There will be ways around Eric Hosmer.
So, why Hosmer? Why on this day?
Because he’s a really good baseball player. That would be enough in plenty of places. In San Diego, there’ll also be a generation of ballplayers to raise. You know, assuming this is the path and nothing crazy happens and nobody gets distracted, so stay tuned. That means, for the moment, (Manuel) Margot and (Hunter) Renfroe and (Fernando) Tatis Jr., and it may even mean those pitchers near the top of the Padres’ prospects list, and for the guys no one sees coming. It doesn’t change everything, but it’s not insignificant either, and it’s also the story you’ll be hearing until the Padres are good again or until it’s clear they won’t be.
▪ C.J. Nitkowski, talking on MLB Network Radio, said the Royals wanting Hosmer back says more about him as a player than the metrics.
▪ Sports Illustrated’s John Tayler wrote a story with the headline, “In signing flawed Hosmer, Padres make a statement about their future.”
Hosmer, with his World Series experience and as a veteran of Kansas City’s youth movement, will be asked to shepherd that group into the majors, and he’s young enough that he won’t be a creaky bag of bones by the time they reach San Diego. He isn’t so much a play for 2018, then, as he is for 2019 and beyond. And for as expensive as he is, San Diego’s laughably low payroll (just $70.6 million for 2018 before his deal is added and topping out at $118.5 million in ’22) can accommodate him and future moves easily.
It’s not exactly fair to suggest that the Padres have given Hosmer nine figures to be a babysitter, and that’s not entirely the case anyway. But his contract is easier to understand if you look at him as the harbinger of a better tomorrow in San Diego then as some crackpot get-rich-quick scheme on the part of Preller, who’s already seen that particular plan blow up in his face. There’s still plenty of risk here, and his addition would make more sense if San Diego were closer to contention. But by taking advantage of a depressed market, the Padres have landed what they likely hope is the first piece of a winner that we can only see the vague outline of right now. If nothing else, at least, Hosmer adds one more point in San Diego’s recruiting favor. Come here, he says; we may stink, but we won’t forever, and besides, you’ll never have to sit through another rain delay again.
▪ Bradford Doolittle of ESPN wrote a story with the headline, “Eric Hosmer striking it rich in San Diego is crazy enough to work.
Something else to keep in mind about Hosmer is this: His WAR totals have possibly been deflated by a consistently average-to-worse defensive showing in the metrics. However, last season’s Gold Glove was his fourth. This is as Jeter-esque a divide between measured defensive value and perceived performance as you’ll find. Indeed, if you watch Hosmer play first base for any length of time, then go to the numbers, it’s hard to make sense of it. Teams don’t use the measurements we’re quoting here. They have their own systems, and if Hosmer’s glove carries more value than systems such as defensive runs saved seem to think, that changes his outlook considerably.
Also working in his favor is his athleticism — few first basemen in recent memory have been better on the basepaths than Hosmer. Generally speaking, the more athletic a player is, the better he ages. Finally, there is real reason to believe that Hosmer has untapped potential at the plate. His bloated ground ball rates have been the subject of a lot of hand-wringing, but the fact of the matter is that few players hit the ball as hard consistently as Hosmer. Given the right adjustments, it’s entirely possible that last year’s breakout was evidence of a powder keg about to go off.