Will Eric Hosmer ever regain the mojo that landed him a huge free-agent contract with the San Diego Padres?
One of the (many) big questions surrounding the upcoming Padres’ season revolves around Eric Hosmer’s performance. Can he at least play at a level commensurate with his average performance over his career? Even better, can he achieve the success he had the year before he signed that $144 million contract with the Padres?
In 2017, when the Padres signed Hosmer, he had just had his best year at the plate for the Kansas City Royals. He batted .318/.385/.498/.882 with an OPS+ of 133 the highest in his career.
Thanks to his history of on and off years, as well as playing for a new team in a new league in a new town, his first year with a slash line of .253/.322/.398/,720 and OPS+ of 100 could be considered somewhat acceptable.
However, Hosmer has not bounced back to a level that would in any way justify his $21 million annual salary, especially when combined with the salary of the first baseman he replaced. Wil Myers and Hosmer together will eat up $43.5 million of the Padres’ $130 million payroll for 2020.
In the meantime, Hosmer’s biological baseball clock keeps ticking. Signed at 28, Hosmer has now reached the age of 30 when performance starts to decline, according to statistical aging curves for major league baseball players. If he plays out the contract, he will turn 35 in a Padres uniform.
Last year, the first baseman batted .265/.310/.425/.735, earning WAR of -0.3 and OPS+ of 93 according to Baseball-Reference, lower in every regard compared to career performance. A downturn in his first year could be explained away, but no so much in the second year.
Hosmer did knock in 99 RBIs, leading the team. He also led in at-bats with 619 and doubles with 29, and came in second in runs scored with 81. But he also struck out 163 times, second only to Wil Myers’ 168.
Speaking of Myers, who has been relentlessly shopped by the Padres, his success against lefties should earn him playing time at first while he’s still in San Diego. Against right-handed pitchers, Hosmer batted .276/.321/.460/.781, against lefties .231/.280/.321/.600. While not setting the world on fire, Myers at least managed to bat .233/.365/.512/.877 with an OPS+ of 127 compared to Hosmer’s 66 against left-handed pitchers.
Hosmer did bring four Gold Gloves to San Diego, but a closer look at his defense reveals a disconnect between those awards and his actual performance at first base. (“Did Eric Hosmer leave his Gold Gloves in K.C.?” https://www.eastvillagetimes.com/did-eric-hosmer-leave-his-gold-gloves-in-k-c/.) Dave Cameron, now with the Padres, argued strenuously against the signing when he wrote for FanGraphs. Newly hired bench coach Bobby Dickerson will work with infielders and undoubtedly will be spending time with Hosmer, who topped his yearly total of errors at 14 last year.
In his favor, Hosmer does show up to play, appearing in 160 games for the Padres last year. And, he checks the right boxes on intangibles. Although not an outspoken leader, he has a positive attitude and is a good teammate. Plus, he has experience in the postseason, having won a ring with the Royals in 2015.
However, unless Hosmer can defy the aging curve and improve on his performance on both sides of the ball in 2020, he could be considered an expensive albatross hanging around the neck of A. J. Preller and the San Diego Padres.