Fitting Eric Hosmer in San Diego by Jeff Sullivan December 19, 2017 On Monday, the Red Sox agreed to terms with first baseman Mitch Moreland. It was meaningful news, for two reasons. One, this is the Red Sox we’re talking about, and it seems like everything the Red Sox do is always big news. But then, additionally, Moreland electing to re-sign would appear to take the Red Sox out of the running for free agent Eric Hosmer. And while I’m certainly not Hosmer’s agent, the market for his services apparently isn’t large. It could get larger. Scott Boras will work hard to make it larger. It’s possible to see a team like, say, the Mets throwing their hat in the ring. Yet the Red Sox move increases the chances that Hosmer will stay in Kansas City. It also increases the chances that Hosmer will go to San Diego. The Padres, so far, have been the most closely-linked suitor. They seem deeply motivated to turn Hosmer into a part of their core. The Padres haven’t won more than 77 games since 2011. It’s been a while since the Padres were good. It might still be a while until the Padres are good. Right now, they’re tentatively projected at 71-91, with no single player projected for 3 WAR. This past season, three teams from the Padres’ division made the playoffs. The season before, the fourth other team made the playoffs. What hope the Padres have is almost entirely tied up in the farm system. It is thought to be terrific. The Padres have done an impressive job of restocking, but it’ll take time until that translates into more major-league wins. I don’t think that could be questioned. This is why Hosmer would feel like a weird investment. I don’t know if he’ll sign for $120 million over six years. I don’t know if he’ll sign for $175 million over eight years. I don’t know if he’ll sign for more than that. But what we know is that Hosmer is a free agent, and he’s going to get a huge guarantee. And as with virtually every free agent, you’d expect Hosmer’s best years to come at the front. Those are the seasons in which we can be least confident the Padres might be competitive. You expect big-money free agents to sign with good teams. Those are the teams that can make the best use of them. Yet Hosmer might not have that choice to make. It’s possible he’ll end up choosing between a rebuilding situation in Kansas City and a rebuilding situation in San Diego. The Padres could be poised to offer more money. And this wouldn’t be an unprecedented outcome. Barry Zito signed with a Giants team coming off a 76-win season. Zack Greinke signed with a Diamondbacks team coming off a 79-win season. Robinson Cano signed with a Mariners team coming off a 71-win season. Jayson Werth signed with a Nationals team coming off a 69-win season. And, of course, Alex Rodriguez signed with a Rangers team coming off a 71-win season. Those contracts aren’t all success stories, not from the team perspective. But these things have happened before. Hosmer could be San Diego’s Werth, installed in advance of the competitive turn. Just to re-state things: That still doesn’t seem efficient. Hosmer’s best years could go to a team in fourth or fifth place. Beyond that, Hosmer plays the same position as Wil Myers, the Padres’ only current long-term contract. Myers is capable of playing the outfield, but he hasn’t been very good at it before, and a position move could mean the exit of Jose Pirela. I don’t want to get too far into the weeds. The Padres’ organizational future doesn’t depend on Jose Pirela playing every day. But Hosmer isn’t even an obvious fit. You probably already understand that Hosmer, as a player, is fascinating. I think too much is made of the perceived conflict here; even the advanced numbers think Hosmer was legitimately good in 2017. He was also legitimately good in 2015 and in 2013. I’m comfortable declaring that Hosmer is an above-average everyday player. He’s more athletic than the average first baseman, and as much as Hosmer’s game has hinted at a higher ceiling, he’s fine as is. Swings like this suggest Hosmer could turn into a force: But even without any further development, Hosmer projects for a 121 wRC+. He’s coming off a 135 wRC+. Over the past three seasons, Hosmer ranks in just the 2nd percentile in terms of productivity to the pull side, but he ranks in the 68th percentile going back up the middle, and he ranks in the 98th percentile going the other way. There are similarities to, say, Christian Yelich and Joe Mauer. Hosmer is a good hitter who teases that he could be a great one. At some point, you stop thinking about potential. Hosmer’s already batted more than 4,000 times in the majors. Yet this is where there’s another point in his favor — he turned only 28 at the end of October. Hosmer might still be entering his prime. Short of that, his decline could be several years off. Rare is the quality free agent who hits the market at Hosmer’s age, but it does open the door to somewhat unconventional suitors. The Padres could choose to think about Hosmer’s 2020, while paying him a couple years before that. Big contracts always happen one at a time, and so, generally, they’re evaluated in isolation. It’s important to always keep the bigger context in mind. For the Padres, I think this evaluation would be mixed. They’re in position to have a lot of future financial flexibility; only Myers is on the books long-term, so their current 2019 commitments total $22.75 million. The Padres anticipate drawing a lot of their future value from arbitration and pre-arb players. But in recent years, the Padres have also topped out at a payroll of roughly $108 million, and you could have Myers and Hosmer earning more than 40% of that. Both Myers and Hosmer look to be good enough, but neither is a superstar. A Padres team with hopes of contending would need to be extremely efficient with what money it would have left. If that means ownership would okay a higher payroll, that would be good news. Inefficiency doesn’t matter so much if you just have more money to play with. It’s just, the Padres will never be the Dodgers. Not in terms of what they can spend. The Dodgers can afford to make worse investments. The Padres have already hitched themselves to Myers, which makes proper evaluation of other commitments all the more critical. Lastly, because it’s talked about too often to ignore, Hosmer is frequently credited with possessing strong leadership skills. He’s been the heart of the clubhouse in Kansas City, and he emerged in the national spotlight during the World Series runs. I don’t doubt that Hosmer has been one of the leaders of the Royals. What we don’t know is whether those traits are “sticky,” so to speak. A leader of one clubhouse might not be a leader in another. The Padres have a whole different group of players, players Hosmer hasn’t played alongside with for years. The Padres and Hosmer haven’t developed together, and interpersonal dynamics are never so easy to forecast. Maybe it helps that Hosmer has already seen one rebuild all the way through. Maybe he could help to guide the Padres, with his experience. Or maybe it wouldn’t work like that at all. Hosmer would definitely be the highest-paid player in the clubhouse. He could be respected, or he could be resented. Teams need leaders, but good luck knowing who the leaders will be. The more I think about Hosmer, the more I feel like one of the “high guys” on him. I think he’s worthy of a lengthy commitment, and I think there’s upside in there, even beyond what Hosmer has already done. I’m encouraged by how hard he sometimes hits the ball, and I suspect his above-average athleticism will afford him a more graceful decline. That all being said, Hosmer, for me, falls short of being great, and the Padres as a suitor have two qualities that make them atypical. They’re a smaller-market operation, and they’re probably at least a couple years from being competitive. You don’t expect a team like that to wade in these waters. If the Padres were to end up with Hosmer, it would put that much more pressure on the farm system to churn out cheap and quality major-league talent. If the Padres could surround Hosmer and Myers with enough talented youth, there would be a contender, there. They’d just need to hope that the youth would come quickly, or that Hosmer’s decline would not.