Eric Hosmer has waited some time for a market to come together for his services. Part of the reason for the delay is that large-market clubs like the Dodgers and Yankees are not in need of a first baseman and are trying to remain below the luxury-tax threshold. Part of it is that teams are learning to better wait out free agents. (By Jan. 3 of last winter, nine of FanGraphs’ top-10 free agents had signed. This year? Three.) Hosmer’s agent Scott Boras famously said that there should be no concern for a free agent if he’s “the steak,” making the analogy to the main course of a fine dinner. There is some debate, however, as to whether Hosmer is a steak or a lesser cut.
By now, you are probably aware of the dilemma regarding Hosmer. He looks the part: an athletic, 6-foot-4, left-handed first baseman who is adept at vacuuming up short throws as a defender. He is also praised as a clubhouse leader. He’s a young free agent, entering just his age-28 season. But he’s remained wildly inconsistent in overall performance and seems determined to keep pounding balls into the turf while demonstrating little interest in evolving.
Over seven years in the majors, Hosmer has produced single-season WAR totals of 0.0 (2014), -0.1 (2016), and -1.7 (2012). He posted another GB/FB ratio north of 2.0 this past season, the third straight campaign in which he’s crossed that threshold. Hosmer’s average launch angle since 2015 (4.3 degrees) ranks 378th out of 399 hitters (minimum 300 balls in play), according to Baseball Savant data. Last season, Hosmer ranked 371st with a 3.8-degree launch angle.
Hosmer might become more consistent. He might even be able to change his swing and become a more productive offensive player. Maybe the defensive metrics that rate him as a poor defender are missing something. Still, a combination of the factors considered above and the uncertainty of what they for his future has certainly contributed to limiting his market.
Nevertheless, some teams seem to be ready to invest. Perhaps they believe a value price point has been reached.
Bob Nightengale reports that the Padres and Royals remain the top two contenders for Hosmer — and, apparently, the bidding has intensified.
Eric Hosmer, coveted all winter by the San Diego Padres, now has another surprising small-market team going head-to-head for his services.
Yes, his old team.
The Kansas City Royals have offered Hosmer a franchise-record seven-year, $147-million contract, persons close to Hosmer told USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity since negotiations are still undergoing.
Hosmer also has a seven-year, $140 million offer from the Padres, people close to Hosmer say, which is $1 million less a year than the Royals’ deal.
This is a weird bidding war.
After a productive run that included a World Series title, the Royals are in trouble — sizable trouble — as Jeff noted earlier this offseason. The Padres and Royals, as presently constructed, are tied for the second-worst record in 2018 according to FanGraphs’ current projections. Those are teams for which Hosmer’s remaining age-20-something seasons are probably least likely to assist in a postseason run.
The Royals seem to be a long way from their next competitive team. The Padres have a much healthier farm system, but it seems they are at least a couple years away from contending for a playoff berth.
Maybe the clubs are buying into Hosmer’s intangibles, but Hosmer doesn’t seem to be a Daniel Murphy or Justin Turner in the clubhouse — that is, a player capable of exposing teammates to ways of optimizing performance.
Jon Morosi reports that the Cardinals are also interested, though St. Louis could pursue other options like Josh Donaldson, and it’s not clear of the Cardinals would consider such a contract.
Source: #STLCards remain involved in pursuit of Eric Hosmer, among other options to upgrade lineup. Cardinals also interested in third basemen, including Josh Donaldson in trade. Matt Carpenter’s versatility means Cardinals could add a 1B as easily as a 3B. @MLB @MLBNetwork
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) January 2, 2018
The curious part of these deals isn’t so much the annual average value. Something like $20 million per season for a 28-year-old who has produced 10 WAR over seven seasons, but is coming off a four-win season, is not a wild overpay with a win worth about $9 million on the open market.
It’s more the volume of years that is surprising and concerning.
There is a point at which Hosmer becomes a value play. But seven years is not much of discount from Boras’s original ask of eight. And seven years is a quite a commitment for a player who carries so much inconsistency and uncertainty. Hosmer would ideally become a value play for a club on a shorter-term deal. And there is an argument that Hosmer might do well for himself on a shorter contract to prove he has more upside and consistency. Then he could re-enter the market in a year or two.
While the asking price appears to have come down from Boras’s original $200 million number, while clubs should be in search of value, seven years and $140-$150 million still doesn’t constitute a favorable deal for a club.
Hosmer is not yet a value play.