It has always been true that a long-term contract between the Royals and Eric Hosmer has more forces working against than for it.
The two sides share a mutual respect and admiration, and team and player have grown together in unison. But richer clubs will be looking for first basemen this offseason, likely willing to spend more than the Royals, and besides, at this point any negotiation would probably start with a wider gap than most.
But we haven’t heard much from the Royals, at least not until the other day, when owner David Glass talked to The Star near a practice field here at camp.
“I think it will be difficult,” Glass said. “I think Hoz wants to stay here, and I think he’s very loyal to our organization. But at the same time, these guys have agents that want to get the best deal for them. Hoz has (Scott) Boras, and if Boras doesn’t get a really good deal for Hoz, then it affects his relationship with his other clients.
“They sort of set a standard with each one of their clients. So I think we’ll have a difficult time with Hosmer.”
There’s a lot going on here. Since Glass hired Dayton Moore as general manager and increased spending, the Royals have a perfect record in signing their best young players to contract extensions: Zack Greinke, Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, Sal Perez and Alcides Escobar.
If we’re being kind, Glass’ comments could be intended to soften the blow if Hosmer becomes the first Royals star from this championship core to leave through free agency. The most generous translation of his words would be an attempt to protect Hosmer’s popularity in Kansas City if he’s playing somewhere else in 2018.
But many won’t take it that way, including Boras, because another interpretation is that Hosmer is Boras’ puppet, and that Boras has something against the Royals or Kansas City.
Aiming the blame toward Boras would be misguided and counterproductive. Misguided, because agents work for players, and the Royals have benefitted from this arrangement many times, perhaps most notably in their negotiations with Greinke, Gordon and Perez.
And counterproductive, because it can be read as an insult to both Hosmer and Boras as the two sides talk.
“Anyone who truly knows Hoz knows he is a leader and one of the game’s true winning players,” Boras said, when reached for a response. “He makes instinctive decisions at the most critical moments while on the biggest stage. Hoz is known league wide as an extremely prepared player.
“It’s not surprising he seeks discerning information and counsel. To suggest Hoz isn’t in total control of his decisions indicates someone has yet to notice that championship ring on his finger.”
This is something like Boras flipping his bat — Glass doesn’t even know his own player, who is awesome, and besides, does Glass know Hosmer won the World Series?
Hosmer, who is currently with Team USA in the World Baseball Classic, has repeated the mantra of many ballplayers that free agency is a player’s earned right. While acknowledging the possibility of signing long-term with Kansas City, Hosmer said recently that, “We have the opportunity to weigh out our options, and we get to do what’s best for ourselves.”
Owners and agents have a relationship that is often by definition antagonistic, but throwing shade toward Boras is a particularly bizarre move.
The Royals’ relationship with Boras used to range between mutual distaste and non-existence, but beginning with that 2006 rehab, the two sides have worked together well. A team that for years eliminated all prospects who were advised by Boras drafted and signed Luke Hochevar, Mike Moustakas and Hosmer from 2006 to 2008 — all Boras clients.
There’ve been others, too, with varying levels of success overall — Ian Kennedy, Kendrys Morales, Christian Colon, Bubba Starling, to name a few. But the team and agent have each benefited from the improved relationship.
Again, this was always going to be a difficult negotiation. Hosmer has been a face of the Royals and an irreplaceable part of their rise from last place the season before his big-league debut to a world championship in his fifth year.
This is likely what Boras will focus on, along with Hosmer’s age — he’ll be 28 next season, younger than most free agents — and the fact that Kauffman Stadium has suppressed his power numbers.
The Royals will be in a difficult spot, and they know it. They adore Hosmer. The coaches, the clubhouse, the front office, everyone. They love who he is with teammates, in the community, with the media, and most importantly on the field.
But they also know his All-Star appearance, 25 home runs and 104 RBIs in 2016 obscure that his on-base and slugging percentages dropped enough that he ranked 14th of 18 qualified first basemen in OPS.
The Royals’ ballpark does suppress his power numbers — he hit 17 homers on the road last year, compared with eight at home — but Kauffman Stadium actually grades out as a slight hitters park overall, and Hosmer’s career OPS is only four points higher on the road.
Hosmer is smart, hard working, athletic, a very good defender and is generally projected to age well. He is wildly talented, even by big-league standards, and has long been thought to be on track toward an enormous free-agent contract.
But, particularly for the Royals, an outlay of what would have to be the biggest contract in franchise history would be difficult to justify with Hosmer not yet having a top 10-in-MVP-voting-type of season.
Hosmer is capable of doing that, but if it happens in 2017, it’s only going to drive up the amount that richer clubs are willing to spend for a talented, well-rounded and still relatively young player with a record of postseason success.
So, yeah. This was always going to be a difficult negotiation, even in the best circumstances.
But now, following this back-and-forth between the owner and Hosmer’s agent, we know it’s not the best circumstances.