The Kansas City Royals are rather notorious for bringing back former players to reunion tours in some capacity. Joakim Soria, Zack Greinke, and Greg Holland are just a few notable names who reappeared with the Royals after their initial careers with the team came to a close. So when the Boston Red Sox released Eric Hosmer, there was some internet buzz that, hey, the Royals now have a chance to bring some veteran leadership back on the cheap.
Hosmer’s career after winning a World Series has been very lucrative for him financially but very frustrating for the teams he’s played with. The San Diego Padres inked Hosmer to an eight-year, $144 million contract in 2018. Crucially, the final three years of the deal hinged on a player option. In other words, Hosmer could have tested the free agent market or picked up his three years and $39 million.
Of course, Hosmer did the latter. The former poster child of the Dayton Moore era homegrown Royals, Hosmer never found traction in San Diego. In his seven years with the Royals, Hosmer had his ups and downs but posted an overall 111 OPS+. In the five seasons since, Hosmer posted a mediocre 103 OPS+. For a $144 million investment, that was simply unacceptable—especially considering that Hosmer’s defense also declined.
Now, you might be saying to yourself: why on earth would the Royals go out and get somebody like Hosmer, who very clearly stinks? It’s a fair question, but it’s one that is filtered through his giant contract. Hosmer is playing like a bench bat and has for years even though the Padres are writing gigantic checks to him every year.
See, there are two reasons why Kansas City picking up Hosmer would be a fine enough move. One, Hosmer is as cheap as you can get; a team signing Hosmer free agent only has to pay him the league minimum, with the Padres paying him the rest. You are literally not allowed to pay a player any less than the league minimum. Additionally, Hosmer is a free agent. Acquiring him does not require any trade assets—only a roster spot.
The second reason why the Royals would consider picking up Hosmer is that he would make the team better. Why? Because his offensive production, for all its fault, has been decent since the shortened 2020 campaign, while the Royals have trotted out a parade of absolutely terrible hitters. Over the last three years, 29 Royals have accumulated 50 or more plate appearances. By wRC+, Hosmer would rank...
...fifth, yes, fifth, with a wRC+ of 107.
Look: Hosmer’s days of being an All-Star are behind him. His core problem is that he hits too many ground balls, and he can’t or won’t deviate from that approach in the long term. The result is an inverse relationship between how many ground balls he hits and his offensive output; you can see that in the below graph that shows said relationship outside of a short period in 2019 that has persisted since he signed with San Diego.
But Hosmer’s offensive strength is pretty clear: he gets on base at a solid clip. Since 2020, Hosmer’s OBP is .335, the third-highest rate out of any of the 24 Royals with 130 or more PA in that time. And Hosmer hits righties really well; for his career, he has a 119 wRC+ against right-handed pitchers, and outside a fluky 2022 he’s been reliable against opposite-handed pitchers during his whole tenure in San Diego.
Hosmer could also be a benefit to the Royals off the field. He would instantly become a significant marketing asset, which I recognize that some of you may scoff at—but you also probably don’t have to worry about selling tickets to Royals games or fostering community goodwill for, you know, some reason, two things the Royals are indeed worried about. Additionally, with a such a young roster, veteran voices are probably helpful as long as they don’t cost a lot to acquire or soak up too much playing time.
There, though, is the rub. Hosmer simply doesn’t fit with the roster, or to be more precise, he doesn’t fit with the roster because the Royals have two significantly worse players on said roster. One such player is Ryan O’Hearn. Fans sometimes compare Hosmer and O’Hearn, but the reality is that one can still produce offensively at a league average level and the other one should be in Hokkaido in a few months. The other is Hunter Dozier. Dozier is a worse defender at Hosmer at more positions and somehow both lacks Hosmer’s offensive strengths while exhibiting more weaknesses.
If neither O’Hearn or Dozier is on the roster in 2023, Hosmer could fill their “veteran hitter” role. No, Hosmer can’t play third—but the Royals have four players on the roster who could play there. And the Royals are not lacking for corner outfield help; if anything, having one fewer option would open more playing time for MJ Melendez, Nick Pratto, and even guys like Tyler Gentry down the line.
Kansas City doesn’t need to be tripping over themselves to sign Hosmer, and with the current roster, he would be more harm than good. But independent of the roster fit, isn’t Hosmer exactly the type of player the Royals should be looking at? A cheap, low-risk bat that brings depth, veteran presence, and offers a reason to watch the team next year?
This is probably a moot point, in no small part because it’s not clear that Hosmer would be interested in becoming a bench bat for a team that won 65 games last year. But unlike many veterans interested in either a payday or a ring, Hosmer has both, and that makes him a bit of a wild card. Either way, the Royals would have to shuffle their roster to make it fit, and no amount of losing or opportunity cost has thus far swayed them to cut bait on the likes of Dozier and O’Hearn. It probably won’t start now.