When asked about whether or not a given player is “untouchable” or not, general managers will rarely say “oh yeah we’re not trading him no matter what.” Generally, they’ll turn up their GM Speak up to 11 and say something along the lines of “no player is untouchable, and we’ll trade anyone for the right deal.” This is technically true, but as technically true things often are, they are not functionally true.
Case in point: Adalberto Mondesi is an untouchable player for the Royals. He isn’t going anywhere. However, if the Los Angeles Angels called Dayton Moore and offered Mike Trout for him, straight up, you can bet your breeches that Mondesi is as good as gone.
In other words, no trade is a nonzero possibility, especially if you can build even a reasonable case for that trade’s existence. And it is on this hill that I plant the flag: I want an Eric Hosmer reunion in Kansas City even though it’s a bad and unlikely idea. I like fun. Sue me.
This is a trade idea that makes more sense than it does initially. I promise. Here’s the setup: Hosmer is owed another $81 million over the next five years. After the 2022 season, Hosmer has a player option for the last three years and $39 million of his contract. If Hosmer thinks he can get more than three years and $39 million in free agency, he can decline the option. If he thinks he can’t, he can just opt-in to the rest of the contract. As a result, the contract is more beneficial to Hosmer than it is the club he’s playing for: if Hosmer is really good, he’ll opt out. If he’s bad, he can just continue being bad and get $39 million to do so.
But, of course, here’s the rub: Hosmer has a pedestrian .262/.318/.423 triple slash—close to league average—over exactly 1500 plate appearances. Over that time, he’s accrued 0.4 WAR per Fangraphs. He turns 31 this week.
It’s pretty clear why the Padres would want to trade Hosmer. If Hosmer continues to be underwhelming, they’ll be stuck with the entirety of the rest of his contract, player option and all. Furthermore, the Padres are on the up and up, but their payroll is still pretty bloated—they’ve got a total of $91.5 million tied up in six players for 2021, and that’s without a potential mega extension for Fernando Tatis Jr. And with this year hopefully being the first of many playoff appearances with this squad, they’ll need to offer extensions and sign free agents to stay competitive.
It is also clear why the Royals would want to acquire Hosmer. Obviously, acquiring him would be hugely popular with fans. But there are other reasons other than PR to acquire Hosmer.
After two awful years to kick off the contract, Hosmer put up a vintage .287/.333/.517 triple slash, good for 27% above league average per wRC+. It was the second-best offensive performance of his career, just behind his 2017 performance that led to his gigantic free agent contract. This coincided with a significant approach shift that yielded his lowest ground ball percentage of his entire career, his second-highest pull percentage of his whole career, and his highest isolated power of his career by a rather extreme amount. Basically, instead of rolling over on balls to second base, he did more of this:
There’s also the fact that the Royals have a pretty wide open hole at first base, and one at DH, too. Ryans O’Hearn and McBroom are clearly not the answer at this point, and Hunter Dozier can handle a corner outfield spot just fine. Meanwhile, the Royals’ best first base prospect, Nick Pratto, put up a putrid wRC+ of 73 in his 2019 minor league season. Jorge Soler has been the primary designated hitter for the past few years, but Soler is a free agent after next season, and Lord knows the Royals don’t have enough quality bats to adequately fill that spot by committee right now.
But the real reason why the Royals would want to acquire Hosmer would be because they could also probably pick up prospects in the deal. Hosmer’s past performance, age, contract size, and contract structure means he has significant negative value in a trade. According to Baseball America, the Padres have the second-best farm system in baseball, so they have plenty of variety and a deep well to draw from. To pick up Hosmer and a legit prospect or two, for free, would be a creative way to gather resources and boost fan buy-in during this portion of the rebuild.
We all know this won’t happen, for a variety of reasons. The whole thing hinges on Hosmer being a player with negative trade value, and if the Padres don’t see him that way—if they see his 2020 as the basis for some repeatable success—then the whole thing crashes down. And that’s just one such hurdle. There are other red flags and questions, both about this hypothetical trade’s chances of happening (what happens if John Sherman doesn’t sign off on that additional $81 million?) and smartness (if the Royals were spending $81 million, shouldn’t they do so on more of a sure thing than Hosmer?)
But, hey, this offseason is likely to be boring. The last two offseasons were boring. Personally, I’m tired of boring. I’m tired of writing about and discussing what bottom-tier free agents the Royals could take a flier on. Give me some drama, Royals! Let me dream about stupid trades that aren’t going to happen and won’t work out.