Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Contemplating Eric Hosmer

A decidedly non-Twins topic ...

Eric Hosmer came up with his best season to date in his walk year, which also happened to be his age 27 season -- the most common age for a career year. There seems to be a certain lack of traction for him in free agency, however.

"Seems to be" may be the key phrase in that sentence; his agent, Scott Boras, has seldom been one to pull the trigger early in the process.

Still, the news this week that the Boston Red Sox had re-signed Mitch Moreland to play first base seems to have closed off the normal deep-pocketed franchises from Hosmer. The Yankees and Ddogers are almost desperate to get under the luxury tax threshold in 2018 (in part to free themselves up for potential runs at Manny Machado or Bryce Harper next winter); the Cubs have Anthony Rizzo at first base; the Angels are committed financially in one case, morally in the other, to fitting both Albert Pujols and Shohei Ohtani in the lineup.

The Padres have been linked frequently to Hosmer, but it really makes little sense for either. The Padres are not close to contending, and they would have to move Wil Myers, their best player, to the outfield to make room for Hosmer. Myers has been a poor outfielder and a pretty decent first baseman.

There's a very good case for the proposition that Hosmer's best option is to stay put in Kansas City, where he is beloved. He could be, to use a Twins parallel, Kent Hrbek to George Brett's Harmon Killebrew --  something short of a Hall of Fame career but a revered lifer. But players who want to be franchise icons don't hire Scott Boras.

This year's free agent class had two first basemen, Hosmer and Carlos Santana, who struck a three-year, $60 million deal with the Phillies. Santana is four years older than Hosmer and didn't have as good a 2017, but has been the better hitter -- and certainly the more consistent one -- over the years.
I'm not sure the Phillies were a good fit for Santana, but he's getting paid.

Hosmer's big 2017 -- he slashed .318/.385/.498 in a difficult power environment -- belies his rather pedestrian career numbers. Boras is, certainly for public consumption and probably behind the scenes, selling Hosmer as much for his "intangibles" as his numbers. He's a winner.

And for a certain class of baseball lifers, that's not a difficult sell. One thing that I found remarkable in the World Baseball Classic last March was that Jim Leyland, manager of the USA team, strongly preferred Hosmer to Paul Goldschmidt. Leyland had, essentially, six players for five lineup spots: outfielders Mike Stanton, Christian Yelich, Andrew McCutchen and Adam Jones and first basemen Hosmer and Goldschmidt. Jones and Hosmer were pretty much lineup fixtures; Goldschmidt was part of a rotation through the DH spot.

Look at the numbers, including the defensive metrics, and there's no question; Goldschmidt is better than Hosmer. Part of was, no doublt, the fact that Hosmer hit lefthanded, Goldschmidt right, and the American lineup was a bit shy on lefty bats. But Hosmer has always had more appeal to baseball's traditionalists than to the quantative analysts.

His problem this winter: The "quants" have more influence on front offices and the money decisions.

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