The most confusing free-agent rumor in the majors this offseason has been the San Diego Padres’ interest in signing longtime Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer to a lengthy, high-dollar contract.
Welp, that’s apparently actually happening! The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Kevin Acee was the first to report that the two sides have agreed to a deal.
— Kevin Acee (@sdutKevinAcee) February 18, 2018
And MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reports that it’s an eight-year (!!!!) deal, with an opt-out after five years.
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) February 18, 2018
Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller says it’s $144 million over eight years (if Hosmer doesn’t opt out), with the average annual value at $20 million over the first five years.
Oh, and Hosmer gets a $5 million signing bonus. So that + 5 years at $20 mil per + 3 years at $13 mil per. $144 million total, AAV $18 mil. Sources.
— Scott Miller (@ScottMillerBbl) February 18, 2018
Okay, so the reason everyone has been so confused about this rumored signing is because it makes little to no sense on the surface.
The Padres were bad before signing Hosmer (projected for 71 wins by FanGraphs). And they remain bad after signing Hosmer.
San Diego will quite likely remain below average in 2019, and probably still a non-contender in 2020. While they have some intriguing young talent and a very good farm system, they don’t appear all that close to playoff contention. And keep in mind they play in the same division as the juggernaut Dodgers, the 2017-emerging Diamondbacks and Rockies, and a Giants team that appears to be a contender again (though the aging Giants could certainly fade soon).
The Padres should now be looking to add proven talent to be part of their next contending team, but young talent. Hosmer is 28 years old. By the time the Padres are ready to win, Hosmer will be in his 30s and likely on the decline. This is with an incredibly rare, special free agent class just one offseason away featuring superstars such as Bryce Harper and Manny Machado (both players will be 26). Those are the kind of franchise-changing stars rebuilding teams like the Padres, Phillies, and White Sox should be looking to go all-in on.
And here’s the thing: we don’t even know if Hosmer is all that good!
Eight years and opt-out after five. The Padres actually think he's a star. That's incredibly adorable.
— Dan Szymborski (@DSzymborski) February 18, 2018
He was a 4.1 fWAR (FanGraphs’ WAR) player in 2017, but he was a -0.1 fWAR player the year before that. He was a 3.5 fWAR player in 2015, but he was a 0.0 fWAR player the year before that. He 3.2 fWAR player in 2013, but a -1.7 fWAR player the year before that. Every year he’s been good has been followed by a year of being bad-to-awful.
Hosmer is also an extreme groundball hitter; his 55.7 groundball percentage over the last two seasons is the second-highest among qualified MLB hitters. This isn’t a trait you want out of a guy you’re looking for slugging from (and from a guy with no speed), and it’s concerning when projecting his long term run production.
Additionally, Hosmer plays a position where everyone mashes. You can find quality run production from the first base position cheaply.
Eric Hosmer – age 28 – 111 career OPS+
Wil Myers – age 27 – 110 career OPS+
C.J. Cron – age 28 – 108 career OPS+
— Matthew Pouliot (@matthewpouliot) February 18, 2018
In the same day, one gets 8 years & $144MM, one gets DFA pic.twitter.com/kqZKX5B1UY
— Muggsy (@muggsyC) February 18, 2018
Even new San Diego front office member Dave Cameron warned of this in December! Clearly he didn’t get much say in this signing.
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
So, the Padres handing out a big contract over the next couple of seasons to accelerate their rebuild is something that made sense, but it’s just really hard to justify this being the move for that. And it arguably doesn’t even accelerate the rebuild; there would seem to be just as good of a chance Hosmer continues his ups and downs and the contract backfires (especially in his later years, and it’s hard to imagine him wanting to opt out after year five, when he’s likely on the decline).
Maybe the Padres thought they would have little chance convincing the Harpers and Machados in the upcoming offseasons, and maybe they didn’t want to enter the $200+ million territory on contracts (and with Harper and Machado, $300+ million).
Still, this move just feels overly aggressive by general manager A.J. Preller, and for the wrong player. The Padres had wisely been patient over the last two years with their rebuild, so now choosing to go with a huge contract for a guy that will be in his 30s by the time they’re ready to contend, and at a position you can easily find big offensive production, is just really bizarre.