Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer is the best young free agent on the market this winter, but interest might not be as hot as he’d like.
Fans of the Kansas City Royals knew this offseason was coming all year, and tried to do their best not to think about it. All-Stars Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Mike Moustakas are all free agents, leaving the franchise on the brink of falling back to irrelevancy for the next five to ten years while the farm system is rebuilt. At only 28, Hosmer is the youngest of the group, and will command the largest salary in free agency. Agent Scott Boras is already hinting at seeking a $200-million deal for his client.
On the surface, $200 million seems like an awful lot to pay for a first baseman like Hosmer who has never hit more than 25 home runs, driven in over 100 only once and has not slugged over .500. Boras will cite his leadership, youth and ability to develop more power outside of pitcher-friendly Kauffman Stadium. Hosmer is coming off the best year of his career, having hit .318/.385/.498 with 25 home runs and 94 RBI in 2017. He won the AL Silver Slugger and Gold Glove at first base, although that is more an indication of the lack of quality full-time starters at the position in the league right now.
Hosmer actually hit for more power at home than on the road last season, which doesn’t do much to further the notion that his 35-homer potential is just waiting to be unlocked when he lands in a new ballpark. Expecting seven-year veterans to suddenly change their swing and approach at the plate seems like something that should not be done as often in this analytical age, but then there’s Jason Heyward’s $184-million deal from the Chicago Cubs and Theo Epstein, one of the smartest men in baseball, for Boras to point to.
Heyward isn’t a great comparison for Hosmer. The Cubs right fielder is truly one of the few defenders who can impact a game every night with his play. Hosmer was a -1.6 dWAR player at first base last season and doesn’t run the bases particularly well. What I’m getting at here is that Hosmer is an interesting test case for a market that has shunned big long-term contracts for first basemen in recent years.
5. Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners are fast approaching a make-or-break moment with their current roster. Robinson Cano’s prime will be coming to an end soon, Felix Hernandez’s already is and Nelson Cruz is in the final year of his contract. For all the money they have spent to build one of the better lineups in baseball, the Mariners have very little to show for it, finishing below .500 in two of Cano’s four years in the Pacific Northwest and never coming closer than nine games to first place.
Starting pitching is a big need for Jerry Dipoto and the Seattle front office this winter, but first base is also a glaring weakness in what is a pretty good lineup. Yonder Alonso was a late-season addition, but did not help much. The Mariners first basemen finished dead last in baseball with a .697 OPS.
With $119 million already committed to 2018 payroll, the Mariners are a long shot to land Hosmer, but they are a fit. Seattle has emerged as a sneaky big-market team willing to play on the big name free agents. The rotation is their bigger need this winter, but expect them to be involved with Eric Hosmer in the early going.