The off-season has been slow to develop, but with Shohei Ohtani signing with the Angels this week, action picking up on the Giancarlo Stanton trade front, and the Winter Meetings next week, things should pick up quickly now.
The Royals have kept Eric Hosmer in their sights as the primary free agent they would like to bring back, but are being passive in their pursuit, hoping the market comes to them. The market has been slow to develop for Hosmer, but things are starting to move. Hosmer had been expected to be pursued by the Red Sox, Yankees, and possibly Cardinals, but there has been little in rumors with those teams. Instead, a surprise team has entered the fray - the San Diego Padres.
At first blush, the reporting from Jon Heyman that the Padres were interested in Hosmer may seem like typical posturing from the Scott Boras camp. I have written before about how Heyman’s reporting can have the tinge of Boras’ influence. However, in this case the Padres’ interest appears to be genuine.
The Padres met with Eric Hosmer yesterday in San Diego. According to Heyman, Padres GM A.J. Preller sees Hosmer as a “winner and a leader” who can hit home runs in pitcher-friendly Petco Park as he did at Kauffman Stadium. The Padres have even reportedly gotten agreement from incumbent first baseman Wil Myers to move back to the outfield.
Does this make sense at all for the Padres? Or for Hosmer? The Padres have had a losing season in each of the last seven seasons. Only four teams in baseball have lost more games in that period. They last made the playoffs over a decade ago in 2006, and the last time they won more than 90 games was in 1998. The Padres have been around for 49 seasons - the same as the Royals - and have just 14 winning seasons. Scott Boras says Hosmer can take you to Playoffville, but the Padres can’t even find it on a map.
Last year’s Padres lost 91 games with the third-lowest payroll in baseball. But perhaps the club is looking to kick-start their rebuild. GM A.J. Preller has had a whirlwind of transactions since he was hired in August of 2014 to remake the franchise. The Padres have a few young players in their prime to build around like Myers and outfielder Hunter Renfroe, and their farm system was ranked #3 in baseball last season by MLB.com with Top 100 prospects close to the big leagues like Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Cal Quantrill.
Still, there are a LOT of holes on this team and most of their top prospects are still in A ball. Hosmer would be a long-term asset perhaps to help a young team learn to win. But is Hosmer down for being part of a rebuild even it is closer to contention than the Royals are?
Ultimately it probably comes down to money. Sure, San Diego may not be Hosmer’s first choice. But if the Yankees are no longer interested after landing Giancarlo Stanton, and the Red Sox’ offer isn’t as strong as expected, and other teams pass on Hosmer in favor of cheaper options like Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison, and Yonder Alonso, what then? Most contenders don’t need a first baseman. If you’re going to play for a losing team, San Diego isn’t the worst place to spend your time.
Hosmer signing with the Padres would be pretty embarrassing for the Royals however. While San Diego is a fairly good-sized market, the franchise has typically operated like a small market team. Since 2007, the Royals have spent 20% more on their payroll - the last time the Padres outspent them on Opening Day payroll was 2011, when the Royals were dead last in payroll due to playing young players. Most Royals fans can accept the club getting outbid by the Yankees or Red Sox. But if the Padres can afford him, shouldn’t David Glass be able to?
Scott Boras may very well be using the Padres as an opening act to create leverage for his real negotiations to take place next week. It is hard to see how Hosmer is a good for the Padres, or how they are a good fit for him. But stranger things have happened. Few expected Seattle to be a player on Robinson Cano. No one thought the Tigers would have interest in Prince Fielder. Teams may have very different strategies than conventional wisdom. But it will be awfully difficult to see Eric Hosmer in brown and bright yellow in San Diego.