Kansas City Royals: At Ten Years, Let Eric Hosmer Walk

Yesterday, Ken Rosenthal wrote about the impending free agency of Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer following the 2017 season, and what they think he’ll be expecting when he hits the market.

The Kansas City Royals are expecting that Hosmer, who will be entering his age 27 season in 2017, will be looking for a contract in the vicinity of a ten-year deal. Ten years is a very, very long time. The recent trend in baseball has been to move away from longer deals and focus more on shorter deals worth more money annually in order to get out from under bad contracts sooner. A small market team like the Royals can’t afford to have a ton of money tied up in one player, and so help them if that player doesn’t perform.

Yes, Hosmer is the face of the franchise, but he has already brought the city a World Series championship. Could he bring home another one? Potentially, but having financial flexibility could do the same trick.

While Hosmer’s counting stats were the best of his career in 2016 with 25 homers and 104 RBI, his strikeout rate went up (19.8%), his walk rate went down (8.5%) and his batting average (.266) and on-base percentage (.328) were just okay.

This all led to Hosmer being a park-adjusted league average hitter with a 101 wRC+ according to FanGraphs. The best season he has turned in at the plate was in 2015 when he put up a 123 wRC+, which is 23 percent above league average. It’s likely too early to call this a decline, but it does point out that even at his best he’s not the kind of player that gets a huge deal. Over his career his fWAR stands at 5.6 across six big league seasons. That’s just under one win per season, which is about $8MM per season if you’re paying per win and rounding up slightly. It’s doubtful that a ten year deal would cost the Royals $80M.

Instead, he’s likely looking to cash in around $150-200M, which is absurdly high, even if you’re paying for past performance, which is what generally gets players their gaudy contracts. In Hosmer’s case, you’d be hoping that taking him out of Kauffman Field would make him a much better offensive player–and be willing to pay big bucks on that gamble.

Rosenthal mentions that the Red Sox, Phillies and Mets could all be looking for first basemen next winter, but the Sox have Sam Travis in the minors as a backup to Hanley Ramirez. The Phillies are still in rebuild mode, and will likely see what they get from Tommy Joseph (113 wRC+ in 2016) at first this season, and if he struggles, turn it over to prospect Rhys Hoskins who belted 38 homers in the Eastern League last year. They will be looking to spend money, but first base may not be their primary concern.

The Mets are an intriguing option, however. Lucas Duda is a power threat with an injury history and will be entering his age 32 season in 2018. The chances that the Mets look elsewhere are fairly high, and they would certainly be open to a ridiculous contract for so-so production (See: most contracts handed out by the Mets). On the flip side of that, they also have Dominic Smith who could be ready to take over at first by 2018 after spending last season in Double-A. He’s not the power threat that Duda is, but he could be a cheaper, young version of Hosmer.

That all said, there is going to be a team out there that is looking to make a splashy signing, and Hosmer will certainly be the best first baseman available on the market. If he wants to cash in, however, he should focus less on the power numbers and more on being a complete hitter. We saw this offseason that power alone isn’t going to get free agents paid, and while Hosmer is a definite upgrade over the Chris Carters of the market, Carter did have a better DRS (Defensive Runs Saved) score than Hosmer last season at -5 to -6.

Just because Prince Fielder received a nine year contract (9 years/$214M) and Joey Votto got a ten year deal (10 years/$225) at the same age, doesn’t mean that all first basemen get that kind of money. The worst wRC+ that Votto has put up in his career (124) is still better than Hosmer’s high mark (123), and Votto consistently puts up OBPs of .400+, a feat that Hosmer came within 47 points of reach once–in 2013.

With the recent emphasis on defense around baseball, locking up Hosmer for ten years would be ridiculous, even as a first baseman. His skills will deteriorate at some point, and from what we’ve seen, he’s far from elite already. If a team wanted to offer a 5 year, $70-80M deal, he could definitely live up to that with some minor improvements. But as a Scott Boras client, it’s doubtful that’ll do the trick.

After all of this, I should be an arbiter for the Yankees.

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