Sam Mellinger

Why the Royals and Eric Hosmer are better off without each other

Royals' Eric Hosmer says thanks to fans

Following the Royals' final game of the season, the team walks onto the field to watch a video, and Eric Hosmer stops to thank the fans.
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Following the Royals' final game of the season, the team walks onto the field to watch a video, and Eric Hosmer stops to thank the fans.

The Royals remain interested in signing Eric Hosmer but have not offered a contract worth $147 million over seven years, as stated in a report almost certainly pushed by people close to Hosmer in an attempt to kickstart action in a historically slow baseball offseason.

Even so, the unpredictable winds of a baseball offseason continue to push the club and star first baseman closer to renewing their vows.

And if people close to Hosmer are sending messages through the media to the Cardinals or Mets or other clubs about the price, we can all agree the conversation is changing.

This is no longer about whether the Royals can sign Hosmer.

This is now about whether the Royals should sign Hosmer.

Kansas City Royals players Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are free agents and could sign elsewhere this offseason. We look at what other team colors might look good on them.

The quick answer, if you only have time for six paragraphs: no, unless Royals owner David Glass is willing to stop complaining about financial disadvantages of running a business currently worth $900 million more than he paid for it, and Hosmer is willing to play the bulk of his prime for a team that’s about to go into a full rebuild.

And then there’s the fuller answer, if you have a minute and aren’t still shaking your head that Glass — who once let Carlos Beltran walk over $1 million — is now willing to give more than $100 million to a player will take a few more paragraphs.

This would be a deal done with more heart than certainty, with more hope than logic, centered more around Hosmer’s ability to make young teammates better than his production pushing the big-league club up the standings.

Kansas City Royals fans react to a reported $147 million, 7-year offer by the Royals to keep free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer in Kansas City.

This would be a legacy signing, a trophy on the mantle — and there is real value in that. Hosmer is perhaps the Royals’ most popular player since George Brett, and the club would love to have his presence as it tries to sell tickets and sponsorships and negotiate a new TV contract through another rebuilding project.

General manager Dayton Moore often talks about wanting kids in Kansas City to have certain stars they know will be around. Sal Perez has become one. Hosmer would be a second, a no-doubt team Hall of Famer who spends most of his career with the Royals.

If that’s as far as you want to go with this, fine. The big-league club would be more interesting with Hosmer than without. But, even if this is counterintuitive, the future could be bleaker.

Because if we’re talking strictly about baseball, the Royals would be better off letting Hosmer sign somewhere else, and I say this as someone who may appreciate Hosmer more than anyone in town who doesn’t work for the club or wear his hairdo.

The priority for the Royals to win again must be improving the farm system, and Glass is claiming — whether you believe him or not — operating losses of more than $60 million the last two years.

Signing Hosmer means it’s harder to build the farm system, because the Royals wouldn’t receive a compensation pick, and would presumably be picking (slightly) lower in the draft with less money to sign amateur talent. The contract would also present payroll complications.

Hosmer is a good player, but he’s coming off a career year in which the talent around him wasn’t enough for even a .500 record, and that talent will almost certainly be less in 2018.

The Royals are going to lose a lot of games the next few years with or without Hosmer. The new CBA has strict limits on what teams can pay for amateur talent. Those limits are tied to the previous season’s record, meaning there has never been more incentive to lose. Last year, the difference between the largest allotment and the sixth-largest was nearly $4 million.

Scott Boras, the agent for Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, discusses free agent market at the GM meetings in Orlando, Fla.

That doesn’t account for the difference in international spending, and compared to the last time the Royals rebuilt, picking higher is more important because teams can no longer simply pay bigger bonuses.

Hosmer is a very good baseball player. But if he’s the difference between the Royals going 69-93 and 65-97 next year, he could be the difference between them having better talent when the window opens again in a few years.

Building a farm system isn’t as fun, or as appealing to most fans, as having a star player on the major-league roster. But it’s how the Royals threw their last parade, and the only way they’ll throw another.

Mega free-agent deals are almost always bad for the club and good for the player. Prince Fielder made $24 million last year and did not play. Josh Hamilton made $28.4 million last year and hasn’t played since 2015.

Miguel Cabrera made $28 million (and is owed $184 million more over the next six seasons, through his 40th birthday) and was outhit by Jorge Bonifacio last year. Albert Pujols made $26 million last year (and is owned $114 million more over the next four seasons, through his 41st birthday) and was outhit by Brandon Moss last year.

You can take the reasonable stance that Eric Hosmer should age better than those players because of his age, skill-set, and health, but a seven-year deal would pay him through age 34. Last year, Nelson Cruz was the only player in baseball 34 or older to outhit Hosmer.

Glass uses various means to consistently complain about the disadvantages of a small market, and even when the Royals were on their way to a world championship in 2015, he wouldn’t add payroll in trades.

Kansas City Royals players Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar share their thoughts following the last game of the season.

That meant the Royals had to pay more in prospects, which weakened the future we now exist in. Even assuming a rebuild finds traction, you don’t think Glass would include a nine-figure payout to Hosmer when considering what he’d bankroll to support a future contender?

Of course, this is all from the Royals’ perspective.

Baseball people almost always use some form of “winning player” assessment when talking about Hosmer. His triple in the Wild Card Game and dash home in Queens were each full-stop clutch, and among the greatest moments in franchise history.

We fans and media can go overboard talking about who performs under pressure and who doesn’t, but Hosmer has a reputation as one who rises. He played the last two years on teams that finished 13  1/2 and 22 games out of first place.

Would he really sign on to spend most of his remaining prime with a club that appears ready to dismantle the rest of the roster and focus on 2021 or so?

No matter what happens next, Hosmer’s legacy and reputation in Kansas City are secure. He’s one of the most important players to ever wear the uniform, and if he decides to stay another six or seven years, he’ll likely put himself in a club of two with Brett.

That’s the sentimentality speaking, though.

Logically, both sides are likely better off going different ways.

Hosmer’s people might agree, too, which would explain why they’re signaling prices to other clubs.

Sam Mellinger: 816-234-4365, @mellinger