This is a big year for Eric Hosmer. He could be in his last season in a Royals uniform, with one last push for a championship with the teammates he has fought alongside for six seasons. There is the pressure of the fanbase, counting on him to give them one more magical season before the band breaks up. He also gets his first taste of free agency this winter, with the expectation that he will be one of the most-sought players. There is the pressure of performing to maximize his value to attract potential suitors.
Rather than rise to the occasion as he has done countless times before, Eric Hosmer has come out of the gate with a resounding thud, hitting .227/.279/.320 with just two home runs in his first 25 games. Rather than look like the $200 million player agent Scott Boras suggests he is, Hosmer has instead looked like a player on his way to the minors.
Is the slow start costing Eric Hosmer money? Dave Cameron at Fangraph recently wrote that in the last calendar year, Hosmer has been pretty much the worst regular first baseman in baseball. ESPN’s Keith Law was on The Program with Soren Petro on 810 WHB this week, and gave his opinion on what Hosmer might get.
Keith Law of ESPN predicts that Eric Hosmer’s free agent deal will be 2 years / $20 million.— Soren Petro (@SorenPetro) May 2, 2017
In my opinion, there is no way Eric Hosmer is signing a two-year deal. My guess is that Keith Law may believe Hosmer is only worth a two-year deal, but no player in Hosmer’s situation would sign a two-year deal. Either Hosmer will get a deal close to what he is asking for - probably for five or six years - or he finds a market much lower than what he expected. In that case, he signs a one-year "make good" contract, betting on himself that he can put up better numbers next year and the market improves enough for him to land something closer to the mega-deal he expects.
The Royals reportedly think Hosmer is worth at least as much as Brandon Belt, who signed a five-year, $72.5 million deal back in 2016. The numbers certainly don’t bear that out, but the Royals may value his defense and intangibles - which still probably don’t add up to a deal worth that much, but whatevs, that’s what they believe. The point is, that opinion probably hasn’t changed just because of one bad month. The Royals will almost certainly make Hosmer a token offer that will be much greater than two years, $20 million.
Will they make that offer even if Hosmer continues to slump? Eric Hosmer has always been a streaky hitter. He will look like a legit All-Star one month, then disappear for an entire month. Here is Eric Hosmer’s worst month in each of his six Major League seasons.
To be fair to Hosmer, here is the best month in each season.
So this is what he is. He will disappear for weeks, even months at a time. As recently as 2014 - a year the Royals won the pennant - Hosmer hit just .270/.318/.398 with just nine home runs. He went two months without hitting a single home run. He was outslugged that year by Rene Rivera, Kevin Kiermaier, Martin Prado, and Scooter Gennett. The Royals know this. Teams know this.
Eric Hosmer's slow start probably isn't affecting his value that much this winter. Because if he was going to get a big time deal, it was never going to be based on his stats. If it was, he would be getting what most below-average offense first basemen would get - a 1-2 year offer for modest money. Hosmer has been talked up because of less tangible things like winning leadership, preparedness, and potential. Those things, if they really exist, should not have been affected by a poor month.
What could hurt his free agency value is how he plays the market. We have seen free agents go into the winter confident they will reap the deal of their dreams, only to find they have priced themselves out for most teams, and the ones that can afford their asking price aren't interested. Ervin Santana, Ian Desmond, and Jose Bautista are recent examples of players that brought up talk of $100 million deals. All had a Qualifying Offer tying them down, and found that no team was willing to give them that kind of money AND lose a draft pick over that.
With the changes in the labor deal, Hosmer won't have to worry about draft pick compensation dragging down his value as teams will only have to forfeit a third round pick to sign him. But if he overplays his hand and find no team willing to come close to his asking price, he could be left in spring training scrambling to sign a one-year deal "make good deal" as those players did, especially if the Royals have already moved on with their options.
There is a pretty wide gulf on how different people in baseball view Eric Hosmer. But likely those opinions aren't going to change after one bad month. Scott Boras is very, very good at his job, so I would never bet against him. But what could hurt Hosmer the most this winter is not his 60% groundball rate in April, but unrealistic expectations from his representation that cause him to turn down reasonable offers.