Eric Hosmer got the biggest contract of this slow-moving offseason. His eight-year, $144 million deal is far clear of what other star free agents received, such as JD Martinez, Lorenzo Cain and Yu Darvish.
Given how much talk of ‘tanking’ there has been since the 2017 MLB season ended at Dodger Stadium, it was perhaps a pleasant surprise to see the San Diego Padres make a big move. Other teams who are not contending in 2018 have moved to shed money this offseason, trading stars away and setting themselves up to compete for the number one draft pick.
In all likelihood, San Diego will not be serious competitors until 2020. Committing to a contract of this size was a bold move, and goes against the general trend we have seen from teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Tampa Bay Rays over the last few months.
As an isolated acquisition for a team like San Diego, Hosmer looks like an overwhelming positive. He won Silver Slugger at first base in the American League in 2017, is a World Series winner and regarded as one of the best clubhouse guys around the game. The long contract means he will be around through the remainder of the rebuild, and still with some of his best years left by the time the Padres are ready to win again. The 2020 season will be Hosmer’s age 30 campaign.
The trouble is, the supposed centre of the rebuild is also a first baseman. Wil Myers had the fourth-highest WAR on the club in 2017, and is owed at least $78.5 million between now and 2022. Hosmer’s arrival will mean Myers is playing one of the corner outfield spots. Myers has played outfield in the past, but he is not good. In 159 career games in right field, he has minus 12 defensive runs saved.
Myers and Hosmer – as you can see – are different types of hitter. Hosmer’s defence, which has won him multiple Gold Gloves, enhances his overall value. The former Royal will test the opposition’s defence more frequently, but he is not quite the same power threat as Myers, who tallied 30 dingers last season. As is often the case, the cost for that power is more frequent strikeouts, though Myers complements that with a few more walks.
Hosmer put it all together in 2017. His power exploded in 2016, despite a poor year, but he retained that power with high-average in 2017. Reliability is an issue, however, as Hosmer has never managed 2 WAR in consecutive years. His WAR per 162 games is 2.18. Myers’ WAR per 162 is 2.19.
The fluctuation throughout Hosmer’s career means his impressive last year in Kansas City does not guarantee consistency. Even if his level remains as high as it was in 2015 and 2017, San Diego’s decision is puzzling given Myers’ record in the last two years.
Bringing a free agent in to aid the development of young players is fine. It makes sense. Hosmer, though, is not just arriving as a leader, but displacing the team’s best hitter. The Padres are upgrading the one position that is settled long-term, and there’s a chance it turns out not to be an upgrade at all.
Hosmer’s impact on San Diego might not be quantifiable. His impact on the outfield will be. It forces Myers into an already cluttered group. Manny Margot and Hunter Renfroe require playing time after strong ends to last season, while Jose Pirela – who ranked fifth on the team in WAR in just 83 games last year – Travis Jankowski and Matt Szczur will be competing for plate appearances.
San Diego have committed at least $183.5 million to two first basemen. Hosmer has to not only continue at his level from last year, but have a significant effect on the clubhouse for that to make any sense.