The Padres Must Think That They’re Not Far Away by Jeff Sullivan February 18, 2018 The last time the Padres won at least half of their games was 2010. Last year’s team finished with 71 wins and 91 losses, and, according to the underlying numbers, the club was actually even worse than that. Looking immediately ahead, the picture doesn’t look much better. Steamer thinks the Padres are the worst team in the NL West. PECOTA agrees. We don’t have everything we need from the ZiPS projections yet, but that system’s probably in agreement with the others. The 2018 Padres almost certainly aren’t going to make the playoffs. They’re just another organization that’s tried to rebuild. The 2018 Padres are also going to play Eric Hosmer just about every day. News came out Saturday evening that Hosmer finally decided between the Padres and the Royals. The terms from San Diego, given to the 28-year-old first baseman: eight years, $144 million. There’s an opt-out after year five. Hosmer will get $105 million over the first five years, with the last three worth $39 million, in the event Hosmer sticks around. Reports recently had the Padres offering seven years, while Scott Boras wanted nine. These things so often end up with the obvious compromise. Hosmer has been out there so long, and he’s been polarizing so long, that there’s hardly even anything new to say. If you’re a regular reader of FanGraphs, you know what Hosmer is, and what he isn’t. I wrote about the idea of Hosmer signing a big contract with the Padres back in the middle of December. Everything I said then still applies. This is an interesting deal, of course; Hosmer is admittedly fascinating. But what might be even more interesting is the signal this sends. The biggest contract of the offseason was given by a last-place team. That last-place team clearly has no intention of remaining there very much longer. There’s no getting around the humor of this. It was just last month the Padres hired away our own Dave Cameron. It was an odd pair, because, while the Padres were enamored of Hosmer as a free agent, Dave wasn’t quite so enthusiastic. Matt Adams got 1/$4M to be a backup. Eric Hosmer is probably getting $100M+. So I’ll just share these career numbers and walk away. https://t.co/Na60BaIsKU — David Cameron (@OneDaveCameron) December 20, 2017 In November, Dave wrote about his biggest expected free-agent landmines, and Hosmer ranked at No. 1, with an expected deal of six years and $126 million. Hosmer is being guaranteed even more than that. He’s coming with an opt-out clause. It was interesting a month ago, because the Padres were hiring a guy who had publicly disagreed with their evaluations. It spoke well of their willingness to be challenged. Now, there’s a lesson here. I can’t imagine it’s that the Padres sold Dave on Eric Hosmer. Rather, the lesson is that the decision-makers are the decision-makers. Let it be remembered that one person has but one voice in a room, and in the Padres’ room, A.J. Preller’s voice is the loudest. At the end of the day, he gets to do what he wants. I do think people have gotten carried away with the idea that the numbers hate Eric Hosmer. There’s this whole stats-versus-eye-test thing people love to bring up, but it’s overblown. Yes, there’s disagreement regarding the quality of Hosmer’s defense. Observers think he’s fantastic, while DRS and UZR think he’s literally one of the worst defensive first basemen around. Neither side can be entirely dismissed. But if you look at Hosmer’s last five seasons, he’s had three seasons in which he’s been worth at least three wins. The projections believe that Hosmer is solidly above-average. That’s just…it. And he’s followed a weird path, one that’s seen his WAR bounce around every single season. In Hosmer’s three most recent odd-year seasons, he’s been good. In his three most recent even-year seasons, he’s been replacement-level. Hosmer broke in back in 2011, meaning he’s gone year-to-year six times since. Over that duration, Hosmer’s WAR has moved by a sum total of 22.1. That puts him in second place out of everyone who’s played since 2011, behind only Chris Davis‘ mark of 24.1. Hosmer has been a volatile player. It shows up in the regular numbers, just as it shows up in the advanced ones. I don’t know what to do about volatility. I don’t think anyone does. When you think about Eric Hosmer moving ahead, you can’t expect that volatility to continue. Hosmer is assumed to be an above-average player. He’s getting a long contract because he’s only 28. As you might’ve gotten sick of reading about, Hosmer’s been a pretty good hitter, but he’s teased the ability to be a great one, if he can ever consistently get his batted balls off the ground. It seems so simple, but Hosmer’s been a ground-ball guy since he was a rookie, and he might not want to change. I’m sure the Padres aren’t unaware of the upside. As far as that upside goes, I should make a note. There is one quirk to how this contract is structured. This deal is front-loaded, before the year-five opt-out. If it were front-loaded without an opt-out clause, that would make some sense, because Hosmer’s best seasons are probably his nearest ones, and the Padres have few other places to spend that money. But as the contract is written, Hosmer will get more money up front, and then it won’t take very much for him to opt out. The Padres have made it harder for themselves to get a premium return. Overall, it’s a somewhat minor point, but Hosmer essentially can’t be a bargain. We should get back to the nature of this match. 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. You can’t talk about Eric Hosmer without at least mentioning the perceived intangibles. He’s considered a leader, a heart-and-soul type, and the Padres are hoping that translates, to a different clubhouse full of different players, who’ve had different experiences. Every young team needs its positive role models, and in that sense, the Padres like Hosmer for the same reason they like Clayton Richard. I do imagine the Padres sold Hosmer on the idea that he could steer the ship. He’ll be the guy, for an up-and-coming ballclub. Hosmer’s someone who could command instant respect. But to go all the way back to the original point, at last, I doubt the Padres wooed Hosmer by saying he could guide their rebuild another three or four seasons. And that wouldn’t even make much sense for the team, since Hosmer’s next few years will probably be the best ones he has left. I think there was a message delivered to Hosmer, the same message that’s now being more widely broadcast. This would be silly if the Padres didn’t think they were almost competitive. It’s hard to see how that could happen in 2018, but, come 2019, the Padres might attempt a real push. This is a club that just ranked third in Baseball America’s organizational rankings. The quality and depth of the Padres’ farm system is no secret, as Preller has turned the organization around in a hurry. What’s missing, very obviously, is a sufficient number of talented major-league players, but sometimes teams like this can arrive sooner than expected. For all I know, Preller is growing somewhat impatient. He could be getting ready to cash some chips in, just as others start to graduate from Double- and Triple-A. The risk is that, well, prospects are prospects, and they fail all the time. The Braves ranked No. 3 in the Baseball America list pre-2016, and they still don’t look competitive. Teams can’t always predict their timelines. But while the Padres can’t compete with, say, the Phillies’ resources, Wil Myers — who’s now an outfielder again — is the only other player with a major long-term guarantee. The Padres have financial flexibility to play with, since so many of their players over the coming seasons are going to be arbitration and pre-arb guys. It allows the Padres to take a chance like this, and even though Hosmer is being acquired early, the same was true of Jayson Werth. Werth joined a 69-win Nationals team. It won 80 games, before it won 98. The Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Giants are more set up to win now than they are to win in the future. The Padres have long been excited about the next wave, and this contract is like a commitment to trying to make the most of it, quickly. It’s putting a lot of faith in very young players. If even just Fernando Tatis Jr. disappoints, I don’t know where the Padres will be. Many of you probably came to FanGraphs looking for us to rip this deal to shreds, and I won’t do that, because it’s not stupid. I think it’s just an overpay, by a team with nowhere else to spend. I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to give Eric Hosmer this contract, myself, if I were in charge of a team that’s not good. But now we get to see the Padres try to follow up. By signing Hosmer, the Padres are placing a bet on themselves. They must believe that they’re getting very close. It’s up to them to prove it. Baseball’s more fun when there’s pressure.