It appears the free agency floodgates may have finally opened. And we only had to wait until after the start of spring training.
Hosmer, who will play the entire 2018 season at 28, hit a career best .318/.385/.498 (132 OPS+) with 25 home runs last season with the Kansas City Royals, the team that selected him with the third pick of the 2008 draft. He of course was integral to their 2015 World Series title. Who can forget this?
Hosmer is a very polarizing player. His supporters see a prime-aged Gold Glove first baseman with burgeoning power and a championship pedigree. I don't think anyone will disagree that Hosmer is a Grade-A clubhouse guy and leader. His detractors, however, see a player who has been worth below +1 WAR in three of his six full seasons.
The Padres, obviously, believe Hosmer is that championship cornerstone type player. You don't commit $144 million to someone to be a complementary player. They expect him to lead their rebuild and be a core player when they're ready to contend, hopefully sooner rather than later. For what it's worth, veteran righty Chris Young, who played with Hosmer in Kansas City and is currently in camp with the Padres as a non-roster invitee, sees some parallels between the two clubs.
Chris Young spoke at length about Eric Hosmer's impact in Kansas City. He wasn't there for the beginning of the turnaround. But he said people told him it surprised them how quickly it happened, and he thinks the same thing might be brewing in San Diego.— AJ Cassavell (@AJCassavell) February 18, 2018
San Diego is not expected to contend this season -- FanGraphs' projections have the Padres as a true talent 73-win team even with Hosmer -- though a free-agent signing of this magnitude has wide-ranging ramifications. Let's run them down.
It is essentially a five-year contract
The eight-year contract is front-loaded and includes an opt-out after the fifth season, essentially giving Hosmer an escape clause should the Padres' rebuild not go as planned. Here is the reported salary breakdown of Hosmer's contract:
- 2018: $20 million and a $4 million signing bonus
- 2019: $20 million
- 2020: $20 million
- 2021: $20 million
- 2022: $20 million with an opt-out after the season
- 2023: $13 million
- 2024: $13 million
- 2025: $13 million
For all intents and purposes, Hosmer is signing a five-year contract worth $104 million with a $39 million insurance policy. If he's healthy and productive come the 2022-23 offseason, he'll opt out and get a larger contract that the three years and $39 million left on his deal with the Padres. And, if he's not healthy and productive, Hosmer will take the $39 million.
Also, the timing of the opt-out probably isn't arbitrary. The current collective bargaining agreement, which includes the harsh luxury tax penalties that have curtailed spending this winter, is due to expire in December 2021. Should the MLBPA successfully push for a better deal that leads to increased spending going forward, Hosmer can opt out and try free agency in the first full offseason of a new collective bargaining agreement.
The contract structure works for the Padres too, it should be noted. They're getting what should be the peak years of Hosmer's career -- those are his age 28-32 seasons -- at a reasonable cost, and if things do go wrong and Hosmer doesn't opt out, his $13 million annual salary from 2023-25 won't cripple the team financially. For the Padres, that opt-out is a risk worth taking to get the player they want, especially when they've had trouble luring big name free agents to San Diego over the years.
This is the latest $100 million deal in history
Prior to this offseason, the latest a free agent signed a nine-figure contract was Jan. 24, when Prince Fielder inked his nine-year, $214 million deal with the Detroit Tigers in 2012. There have now been two $100 million deals signed later than that this offseason. The three latest $100 million free agent contracts in history:
- Eric Hosmer: Eight years, $144 million with Padres on Feb. 17, 2018
- Yu Darvish: Six years, $126 million with Chicago Cubs on Feb. 13, 2018
- Prince Fielder: Nine years, $214 million with Tigers on Jan. 24, 2012
It is possible, if not likely, there are still two $100 million free-agent deals coming this year since both J.D. Martinez and Jake Arrieta remain unsigned.
Hosmer picked a good ballpark for himself
Advanced metrics have never been too fond of Hosmer, so it is no surprise then that ZiPS doesn't project him to be more than a solid regular going forward rather than a true $100 million impact player.
The biggest knock on Hosmer is his power, or lack thereof relative to his position. His career high is 25 home runs, done each of the last two seasons. Those 50 homers rank 15th among full-time first basemen over the last two seasons. That's not great.
The single biggest reason Hosmer doesn't hit more home runs is his propensity to hit ground balls. The next ground ball I see go over the fence will be the first. Hosmer has consistently run a ground ball rate north of 50 percent in his career, and since his first full big-league season in 2012, his 54.0 percent ground ball rate is seventh highest in baseball. Ahead of him are guys like Norichika Aoki, Jean Segura, and DJ LeMahieu.
Hosmer has natural strength and power. When he gets a mistake, he'll crush it over the wall. His 402-foot average home run distance the last two years is greater than that of noted sluggers Carlos Santana (401 feet), Chris Davis (401 feet), Kris Bryant (401 feet), Freddie Freeman (400 feet), and many others. Hosmer will punish mistakes. He just doesn't hit the ball in the air often enough to really tap into his power.
All around baseball players are focusing on getting the ball airborne in an effort to hit more homers, but Hosmer hasn't, partly because Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City is so spacious. It's a singles and doubles (and triples) park, not a home run park. Hit the ball in the air in Kansas City, and it'll probably be caught for an out. The same is true of Petco Park in San Diego, even after the walls were brought in a few years ago. Hosmer is leaving one homer unfriendly park for another. He can continue to pepper the ball to all fields and find grass in that big outfield.
On one hand, you'd like your $100 million first baseman to hit for power. On the other, hitting for power at Petco Park isn't easy. Hosmer grew up in a pitcher's park and developed an all-fields approach suited for that ballpark. He can take that same approach into his new home without any major adjustments. The New York Yankees know first hand what can happen when a big-money free agent begins to tailor his swing to his new ballpark. Both Mark Teixeira and Brian McCann saw their production slip after falling in love with Yankee Stadium's short porch. That won't be a concern for Hosmer with the Padres.
San Diego is following in the Nats' footsteps
It's hard to look at the Hosmer signing and not think back to the Washington Nationals signing Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million contract during the 2010-11 offseason. The Nationals were rebuilding at the time and they wanted Werth, a productive veteran with championship pedigree (he was part of the champion 2008 Philadelphia Phillies), to help them take a step forward. Washington went from 69 wins in 2010 to 80 wins in 2011 to 98 wins in 2012, .
The Padres have been mired in mediocrity for a decade now -- they haven't been to the postseason since 2006 and finished over .500 just twice from 2007-17 -- but they appear to finally be on the upswing, with talented youngsters like Manuel Margot, Dinelson Lamet, Carlos Asuaje, and of course Wil Myers populating the roster. They are universally believed to have a top-tier farm system as well. Here are their 2018 farm system rankings according to the various scouting publications:
When the Nationals signed Werth, they had the 13th best farm system in the game according to Baseball America, though they already had Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman, Tyler Clippard, and Ian Desmond on the big-league roster. In the system were Bryce Harper, Wilson Ramos, Danny Espinosa, Robbie Ray, and Tommy Milone, players who would be on the MLB roster when things turned around or traded for players who helped turn things around.
That's where the Padres are right now. Rebuilding, but with quality young players (Margot, Myers, Lamet, Asuaje) on the big-league roster and a talent-farm system. It won't be long before top prospects like Fernando Tatis Jr., MacKenzie Gore, Luis Urias, Cal Quantrill, and others join Hosmer in San Diego. (And remember, Hosmer just turned 28. Werth was already 31 when the Nationals signed him, .)
The Padres have a crowded outfield now
The Hosmer signing pushes Myers back into the outfield, the deepest part of their roster. I count no fewer than five outfielders the Padres could justify playing on an everyday basis. Here are their 2018 ZiPS projections:
That list doesn't include speedster Travis Jankowski, fourth outfielder Matt Szczur, or youngster Franchy Cordero, all of whom have a case to be on the big-league roster, but may be squeezed out by the numbers crunch.
There is some flexibility there. Dickerson is a natural first baseman whose best long-term role may be a left-handed hitting first base/outfield NL bench guy. A modern day Mark Sweeney, basically. Pirela came up as an infielder and could see time at second and third bases in addition to the outfield. Sending Cordero back to Triple-A wouldn't be the end of the world.
For now, it'll be up to manager Andy Green to find a way to make Margot, Myers, Renfroe, Pirela, and Dickerson (and others) coexist on the roster. Playing time with be at a premium and hey, competition is a good thing. Nothing wrong with making guys earn their lineup spot.
The Royals have clarity
With all due respect to the Miami Marlins, I'm not sure there any team is worse off long-term than the Royals. They lost Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain to free agency this offseason and still might lose Mike Moustakas as well. Baseball America says they have the second-to-worst farm system in baseball. The projections at both FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus see the Royals as a true talent sub-70 win team in 2018. The MLB roster is bad and the farm system is bad. At least the Marlins traded their top guys for some talent.
The Royals seriously pursued Hosmer and, had they re-signed him, it would've been tempting to try a quick fix retool to get back into contention while he is still in his prime. Nothing wrong with that. There's something to be said for trying to win in an age where one-third of the league is rebuilding. That said, the Royals are in bad shape right now, and the best thing for the team long-term is to rebuild. Move on from Hosmer, Cain, and Moustakas and develop the next championship core. Re-signing Hosmer would've complicated things. Now the Royals know without question the path they must take.
Boston has one fewer alternative to Martinez
There was a time earlier this offseason in which the Boston Red Sox . That was never all that realistic, though the Red Sox maintained some interest in Hosmer, and could've pivoted to him had their ongoing talks with Martinez broken down. Now they can't do that. If the BoSox want an impact middle of the order bat -- which they do, very much so -- it's either Martinez or secondary free-agent options like Lucas Duda and Logan Morrison.
And, as if having one fewer alternative to Martinez isn't bad enough, Martinez and Hosmer are both Scott Boras clients. Boras just landed a pretty big contract for Hosmer, reinforcing his point that Martinez is worth more than the five years and $100 million or so the Red Sox are said to be offering. The market for a top free-agent position player has been set, and it was set by the same agent representing Martinez. Between that and the lack of alternatives, Martinez and Boras have more leverage now.
I am of the belief that Hosmer is better than WAR would lead you to believe. Defensive stats have trouble with first basemen and, based on the eye test, I think Hosmer is one of the best first base defenders out there. Also, there is real value to his leadership ability and clubhouse skills. He's captain material. He's someone you want mentoring your young players and someone you want those young players to emulate. How does that translate on the field? Hard to say, but I think that value exists.
Clearly, the Padres see Hosmer as someone who can take their rebuild a step forward and be a core player when they're ready to contend, which might be fairly soon. Rebuilding teams have a way of arriving sooner than expected, especially when they have a deep farm system. The Cubs went from 73 wins in 2014 to 97 wins in 2015. The Pittsburgh Pirates went from 79 wins in 2012 to 94 wins in 2013. The Tampa Bay Rays went from 66 wins in 2007 to 97 wins in 2008. It can happen quick.
I don't expect the Padres to make that kind of leap in 2018. But why not 2019? They have gobs of young talent and, obviously, some money to spend. If the Padres do make a sudden turn around like the 2015 Cubs or 2013 Pirates or 2008 Rays, Hosmer won't be the sole reason, but he will be a reason.