Free agency begins today and the Royals will have numerous big decisions to make. They have nine players eligible for free agency, but perhaps none bigger than All-Star first baseman Eric Hosmer. Hosmer is expected to be one of the most coveted free agents this winter, but only so many teams need a first baseman. Let’s take a look at who may be wining and dining Hosmer this off-season.
Boston Red Sox
Boston Globe writer Nick Cafardo calls Hosmer and the Red Sox an “ideal” match, and one Boston radio station already jumped the gun and erroneously tweeted the Red Sox were going to sign Hos. The Red Sox had Mitch Moreland this year, who was decent but slumped in the second half, and will be eligible for free agency.
The Red Sox are famous for being analytical with sabermetric godfather Bill James advising them, but new General Manager Dave Dombrowski is more old school. The club has 24-year old Sam Travis but he is not a big time prospect and put up mediocre numbers in AAA. Dombrowski is known for favoring vets over prospects, and could decide to go for more of a sure thing in Hosmer.
One major complication, however, is the fact the Red Sox are just $9 million under the luxury threshold. That is not a hard cap - the Dodgers are well over the mark - but teams have to pay an added surtax if they go over, and with the new labor deal, teams over the luxury tax threshold face worse draft pick compensation rules if they sign or lose certain free agents. The Red Sox may have to move some salaries to fit Hosmer under that mark (David Price, anyone?) or just bite the bullet and go over to improve the club.
New York Yankees
The Yankees are said to “like Eric Hosmer very much”, according to FanRag reporter Jon Heyman. Like the Red Sox, the Yankees may have luxury tax threshold problems to deal with, but with may contracts coming off the books, they should have around $30 million to spend this winter. They will likely need to add a starting pitcher to replace free agent C.C. Sabathia if he’s not brought back, and they may have other holes they want to fill. They may also want to have a quiet winter and maintain payroll flexibility for the 2018-2019 off-season, when big-time players like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Clayton Kershaw, and Josh Donaldson become free agents.
The Yankees do have an internal option in Greg Bird, who hit .190/.288/.422 with just nine home runs in 48 games this year. General Manager Brian Cashman insists he is the first baseman of the future, but with the club already in the ALCS this year, they may not feel they have the patience to wait for him to develop.
Kansas City Royals
That’s right, Hosmer could stay! The Royals will reportedly make Hosmer their #1 target to bring back among their free agents, and the entire off-season plan could hinge on him. The Royals likely hold a higher view of Hosmer than most other clubs, reportedly valuing him more than Giants first baseman Brandon Belt, despite Belt having better numbers on paper. They value not only his bat, but his defense (which the metrics are less favorable towards), his clutch-hitting, his leadership in the clubhouse, and his off-the-field contributions to the community. This plays right into the hands of agent Scott Boras, who has an entire binder dedicated to why these traits should translate into a multi-million dollar contract.
The Royals do not have an heir apparent to Hosmer at first base. Brandon Moss would likely plug in there for a year if Hosmer does not return, with perhaps Cheslor Cuthbert or Hunter Dozier getting some time until Ryan O’Hearn is ready. But even O’Hearn is not some top prospect in baseball, and the Royals may feel that that they want to build the next great Royals team around their star first baseman. Hosmer is young enough that signing him to a long-term deal still makes sense even if they rebuild, and they may reason that his leadership in the clubhouse may be the perfect bridge between the old championship core and the next generation of Royals.
I’m sure Eric Hosmer has some loyalty to the organization that drafted him, but let’s not pretend like it won’t come down largely to money. I can see Hosmer giving the Royals a bit of a break if their offer comes in just below another bidder, but the offer has to be close. There seems to be little doubt the Royals will make a competitive offer to Hosmer. The only question is, will it be enough?
The Mariners have the longest post-season drought in baseball, having not been in the playoffs since 2001. So there may be some urgency to get to October baseball, after the club came close in 2014 and 2016, only to take a step backwards last year. The Mariners had Danny Valencia and Yonder Alonso at first base last year, but both are free agents this winter. Dan Vogelbach could take over at first, but he has almost no MLB experience and didn’t blow away the Pacific Coast League last year.
Hosmer may be a good fit for Safeco Field, which is similar to Kauffman as a home run-suppressing park, although that may be changing in recent years. Hosmer has not been much of a big bopper and could probably do better in a bigger ballpark that allows him to use all fields and plug doubles in the gaps. For what its worth, Hosmer is a career .316/.333/.432 hitter in 24 games at Safeco Field.
The Mariners already have about $142 million committed to next year’s payroll, which may not give them the financial flexibility for a big signing. But if ownership approves a big payroll bump, they may want to make a big splash as they did a few off-seasons ago when they signed Robinson Cano.
Los Angeles Angels
The Angels have C.J. Cron at first base, who is solid, but not so great that you couldn’t see the Angels looking trying to upgrade. They could also move Cron to DH and try to convince Albert Pujols, who was quite possibly the worst regular player in baseball last year, to try and retire. That could put them in play to try to sign a big name at first base, which could lead them to Hosmer.
The Angels have wallowed in mediocrity the last few seasons, and have only made the playoffs once with since 2010. That may motivate them to work harder to improve the team, so they don’t waste the prime years of Mike Trout’s career. They have $145 million committed to next year’s payroll, and if Justin Upton opts out, they could have even more payroll flexibility. The Angels may decide they have bigger priorities - third base, for example, which could cause them to target Mike Moustakas. But perhaps Moose and Hos will be reunited in southern California?
St. Louis Cardinals
ESPN’s Buster Olney raised this possibility, but frankly I don’t see it. He argued that although the Cardinals currently have All-Star Matt Carpenter at first base, they could trade him away to sign Hosmer and improve defensively.
Let’s imagine for a second, that Hosmer is better than Carpenter defensively (the metrics may disagree) Is the difference between the two players that great that it would cause a team to trade one away and invest in a 6-7 year deal with another? Hosmer did out-hit Carpenter in 2017, but the difference wasn’t that great (133 wRC+ for Hosmer to 123 for Carpenter). And if you look at the last three seasons combined, Carpenter has out-hit Hosmer by a good deal.
Carpenter is owed $28 million over the next two years with a club option in 2020, a perfectly reasonable commitment for a solid first baseman. Even if the Cardinals did move him to another position or to another team, they still have other options at first base like Jose Martinez or Stephen Piscotty. Maybe the Cardinals love Hosmer’s game, but I think it is unlikely you’ll see Eric playing across the state, a relief to many Royals fans.
Mark Reynolds is a free agent, and while Ian Desmond is penciled in at first base for the Rockies next year, he has the positional flexibility to move somewhere else on the diamond. However there isn’t an obvious position for him to move to. He could go to left field, although Raimel Tapia looked decent in his rookie season.
The Rockies made the playoffs this year with a pretty solid young core offensively. Their focus will likely be on improving the pitching staff, particularly the bullpen, where closer Greg Holland is a free agent. Still, if they feel like Hosmer is the final piece they need to bring a winning attitude to the clubhouse, it is not unthinkable that Hosmer could be playing in the thin air of Denver.
Mike Napoli is a free agent, and although Joey Gallo could spend more time at first base next year, the Rangers may decide his defense makes him more suitable at DH. However if Gallo can play first passably, they may be better off investing in starting pitching, a much bigger priority. Texas has made surprising splurges into offense before - trading for Prince Fielder and signing Shin-Soo Choo - but I don’t see Hosmer going down to the Lone Star state.
The Indians have an opening at first base with Carlos Santana eligible for free agency, although they seem pretty amenable to bringing him back. The Indians are a more analytical team, and one on a budget at that, so they don’t seem like the kind of team that would have the money or inclination to bring in Hosmer.
There was some talk that Hosmer would want to go home, taking his talents to South Beach. However the Marlins are in cost-cutting mode under new owner Derek Jeter, and are likely to be trading off parts rather than adding vets. They also have a solid, young, and most importantly, cheap first baseman in Justin Bour, so Hosmer would not make for a very good fit. Still, it’s the Marlins, who are just about the most unpredictable franchise in baseball.
Who will Eric Hosmer play for in 2018?
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