Spring Training games start this Friday and there are still so, so many free agents waiting for contracts like they're characters in a Samuel Beckett play that the MLBPA has had to organize its own training camp. Even it seems like it would be about time for teams to start snatching them up, there was certainly no guarantee that anything was going to happen over the weekend, given the frigid nature of the stove this offseason. But, it actually did! There were actually multiple moves! In one weekend!
The Giants signed Tony Watson to a somewhat strange deal, taking the best remaining left-handed reliever off the market. The Red Sox signed Eduardo Núñez to a one-year deal and added infield depth. The Mets took left-handed starter Jason Vargas off the market and added depth to a rotation with plenty of question marks in the health department. That's before we even get to the trades, which included the Twins acquiring RHP Jake Odorizzi from the Rays and the Rays procuring C.J. Cron from the Angels.
We'll put all of these deals (and hopefully the more that are on their way, if *fingers crossed* a signing dam has truly burst) under a microscope soon, as it looks like we might be able to start taking a look at teams' offseason moves as a whole very soon. Today, however, we're here to look at the biggest free agent signing of the weekend: Eric Hosmer signing an eight-year, $144 million deal with San Diego that set multiple records.
It's the biggest total value deal of the offseason, pushing Yu Darvish's six-year, $126 million deal into silver medal position and Hosmer's former teammate Lorenzo Cain's 5-year, $80 million deal into bronze. It's also the biggest contract handed out by the Padres in the history of the franchise, shoving Wil Myers' six-year, $83 million deal from last offseason out of the way. There's plenty of other interesting tidbits to parse, like the fact that Hosmer can opt out after the fifth year and that it's front loaded, which is unusual for contracts with opt-outs, but we'll get there shortly. First, we need to talk about Hosmer.
He's coming off of a season where he hit .318/.385/.498, for a 135 wRC+, put up 4.1 fWAR/4.0 bWAR, and was the 5th best first baseman in MLB by fWAR. Hosmer had a career-best walk-year, and it all led to his agent, the notorious Scott Boras, purportedly pushing for a ten-year, $200 million deal. Unfortunately for Hosmer and Boras, there were a number of factors in play that were almost certainly going to keep that from happening.
This was and remains a less than stellar offseason to be seeking a contract of that stature, given that the biggest-spending teams, the Yankees and Dodgers, are seeking to reset their luxury tax clocks in advance of the much ballyhooed 2018 free agent class. Throw into the pot all the rebuilding teams and the fact that there just wasn't that much demand for first basemen on the market generally, and there was simply no way that Hosmer was going to put Boras' great-great-great-grandchildren through college.
But even in a "normal" offseason, it's not clear that Hosmer would have commanded the kind of contract his agent was pursuing. Since he came up in 2011, Hosmer has failed to string together consecutive seasons of stellar play. Despite having three good to excellent seasons in Kansas City (3.2 fWAR in 2013, 3.5 in 2015 and 4.1 last year), he's only put up 9.9 fWAR in almost 7 full seasons. The defensive stats have never been kind to Hosmer, but even if we discount those, he's still had three rough to average seasons at the plate. With a wRC+ of 80 in 2012, 98 in 2014 and 102 in 2016, it's clear that there are some questions about Hosmer's ability to provide value season in-and-out over a contract of this length.
But then we have to consider the fact that Hosmer is hitting the market at 28 years old, which makes him a particularly young free agent. And, despite the fact that Hosmer is coming off his best season, he also posted career-high BABIP (.351), which suggests that he might have room to improve while he's still in his prime, especially if he can just get the ball in the air a bit more. He's also been remarkably healthy, playing in 162 games last season and averaging over 153 games a season in his six full MLB seasons.
So, Hosmer is a healthy, younger-than-normal free agent who has had some excellent years and some not-so-excellent years and plays a non-premium defensive position (and might not field it particularly well, depending on whom you ask). Points and counterpoints aplenty. Whatever your feelings about him, clearly, Hosmer is a player who, like many others this offseason, should have a contract to play baseball in 2018. The unclear part is what San Diego was thinking when they decided to be the team that had to have him.
The Padres are coming off of a 71-91 season and haven't made the postseason since 2006. They haven't posted a winning record since 2010. They still rank pretty low in terms of on-field talent and will almost certainly miss the postseason next year, given the realities of their division. While GM A.J. Preller's Prellerpalooza didn't work out on its face, he's managed to put a positive spin on a bunch of those moves and convert San Diego's farm system into one of the best in either league. So there's certainly reason to believe that the Friars could be contending, and that could happen sooner rather than later with a few prospect breaks.
But all of that comes with some serious caveats, because (say it with me): prospects gonna prospect. The Padres obviously think that they're going to be playing competitive games late in the season soon, and they might not be wrong. There are definite question marks about the not-too-distant future by every team in the division except the Dodgers, with the Giants in particular looking like they might be set up for a fun night out on the town with some ex-All Stars and an awful hangover to follow . But, as the corollary to "prospects gonna prospect" goes, "baseball gonna baseball," and there's certainly no guarantee that the Padres will be contending any time soon.
San Diego has plenty of payroll to work with, though, and it's not as if they're hamstringing themselves in the same way that other teams would be if they signed Hosmer to this kind of contract. The deal's structuring makes it tantalizing, as well, as Hosmer will make $105 million over the next five seasons, and can then choose to opt out or to make $13 million a year for the final three years of the deal, which will be his age 33 to 36 seasons. How you feel about that kind of deal for those seasons at this point is going to be colored very much by what kind of player you think Hosmer has been to this point.
There are plenty of other repercussions for the product that San Diego will put on the field in 2018 (and beyond). Myers is going to have to move back to the outfield, which probably isn't the best idea in terms of getting the most out of their defense, but it also opens up the door for trades out of their now-crowded outfield. Since trading players is the new signing players, San Diego might be able to work on addressing their pitching situation for the life of Hosmer's contract now.
Grade for Hosmer: A
Hosmer may not have gotten the $200 million that Boras was after for him, but it was always unlikely that was going to happen. First basemen are valued differently than they used to be and this was not a good year to be a free agent, much less one who plays first base. In light of all of that, though, Hosmer still came away with a deal that pays him a seemingly reasonable amount for his prime and then lets him opt out if he plays like the kind of player Boras has suggested he will or pays out some decline insurance if he doesn't. It's hard not to see this deal as a win for Hosmer in the current contractual environment.
Grade for Padres: C+
While I am certainly inclined to give the Padres a whole bunch of points for signing a player to a contract that is in the realm of what said player deserved, I'm not entirely sure that I'm ready to fully endorse the deal. If I could give the Padres an "incomplete" grade here, that's probably what I would do. It's great that a small market team is actually choosing to spend money at a time when that appears to be anathema.
It also seems like a pretty hefty wager on Preller's part to commit this much salary for so long when you're still waiting on prospect eggs to hatch. If the Padres graduate some more prospects, flirt with .500 this season and sign Manny Machado next offseason, all while Hosmer puts in his first of multiple consecutive seasons of his best self, then I reserve my baseball-god-given right to remove this article and make you find it on the Wayback Machine. Until then, though, it's a rather large contract for a player with some question marks by a team with a bunch of question marks, so it's difficult to be extremely excited about it, even if I approve of it in theory.