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Which team will spend too much for free agent Eric Hosmer?

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Eric Hosmer is a Pretty Good First Baseman, but he’s represented by Scott Boras. Uh-oh.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Kansas City Royals Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

We know what Scott Boras thinks about Eric Hosmer. We’ve heard him hint that Hosmer could get a 10-year, $200 million contract. We’ve heard him laud his intangibles. And we’ve all read his hyperbolic quotes:

Eric Hosmer is a rocketship filled with TNT that can land on the dark side of the moon, transform into a robot, and bite Megatron’s nose off. He’s Old Faithful, except he’s shooting out hot cider instead of water. And you know what? He’s delicious.

Because I can’t find the link to that quote, the legal department is telling me that I need to label it as satire. But I’m still looking. What we do know is that Boras is very, very high on the assorted talents of Hosmer, and he would like to present this information to your favorite team’s GM.

I’m here to evaluate the merits of Eric Hosmer as a free agent, and it turns out that is something of a contrarian’s delight. The $200 million rumor made me snort milk through my nose and spit it out my mouth, and then I looked at the stats to get the milk going the other direction. The more I read about Hosmer as a free agent — the best player on the market, according to Jon Heyman! — the more I wonder if I’m trapped in an alternate reality.

Start with the good stuff:

  • Just 28
  • Averages 150 games a year
  • Hit .318 with 25 home runs and a .385 OBP last year
  • Won a Gold Glove
  • Well-liked clubhouse presence

There’s a lot to like, there. He will have his number retired in Kansas City one day, and there might be a statue that goes with it. At least a very nice plaque. I would like a player like this on every team I’ve ever rooted for.

But we’ll move on to the not-as-good stuff. Hosmer’s career averages are a paltry .284/.342/.439, which is extremely Lyle Overbay. I’m going to guess that there are more than a couple of people reading this who were teenagers or otherwise unaware of the Lyle Overbay era when it was at full speed, and that’s the point. He came and went and didn’t make $200 million, and it all made sense.

Ah, but the difference is that Overbay wasn’t established until he was 27, and Hosmer is a free agent when he’s 28. Also, those career averages include the seasons when he was struggling as a 21- and 22-year-old, which hardly seems fair. If we’re looking for the true measure of what kind of player Hosmer is, it’s probably best to look at his last three seasons.

AVG: .294
OBP: .359
SLG: .463
OPS+: 119
HR average: 23

That’s a nice player. Let me talk about some other nice players with similar numbers through from ages 25 through 27.

Willie Upshaw is an eerily close comp, playing 472 games over those three years to Hosmer’s 478, hitting 67 homers to Hosmer’s 68, and finishing with an identical .822 OPS and 119 OPS+. Upshaw was playing in Japan by the time he was 32.

If he received the equivalent of Hosmer money, that contract would have been a mess.

Brook Jacoby and Von Hayes were exciting players for a young kid with a rookie card addiction, but neither of them aged well. They had the similar high-OBP, low-power profile and a peak from 25 through 27 like Hosmer, but if they received the equivalent of Hosmer money, those contracts would have been a mess.

Jason Giambi was like Hosmer, and then he took a ton of steroids and got huge and won an MVP. So I mean, it’s not not an option for Hosmer.

Al Oliver was nicknamed “Scoop,” and as Duane Kuiper laughingly tells it every year, that’s because he couldn’t field worth a damn. But he could hit, and for the six years after he turned 28, he was threatening to win batting titles and picking up down-ballot MVP votes.

If he received the equivalent of Hosmer money, that contract would have been OK. But it wouldn’t have been a steal because it’s hard to be a low-power first baseman and be an All-Star.

OK, OK, but none of those is a perfect comp. Upshaw sort of came out of nowhere, whereas Hosmer was a top-10 draft pick and heralded prospect. Same goes for Jacoby, and injuries were rough on Hayes, so let’s go with someone else.

No, my favorite comparison is one that Royals fans might remember. Wally Joyner was something of a sensation when he came up, and in his second year in the majors, he hit 34 homers. But that was in a rabbit-ball season, and it wasn’t a true measure of his power. From ages 28 through 33, here’s what he did, according to OPS+:

111
134
101
120
113
118

One of those seasons was cut short by injury. The defense ranged from solid to we’ll-take-it. And Joyner was worth between 1 and 4 WAR throughout those six seasons, generally helping his team.

This is almost exactly what I would expect from Hosmer. This is exactly what a team will be paying Boras money for, and while that sounds sketchy, it doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The team in question will just need to be able to afford the occasional luxury.

The ideal fit for Hosmer

This would be the Royals, right? It’s not like they’re going to spend money on anyone else over the next five or six years. Let him be a local hero and grin and bear the financial hit.

Unless they do that with Mike Moustakas or Lorenzo Cain. I do think it’s funny that the Royals can spend $350 million to get Hosmer, Moustakas, Cain, Greg Holland, and Wade Davis and not be any better than they were last year. Yet teams will still spend $350 million to get these players a la carte and expect great things.

It’s ... it’s almost like free agency is a scam.

No, no, that’s not right. I apologize for losing faith in the offseason. It won’t happen again.

Really, though, if we’re looking for a team that can use Hosmer, it would be a rich or semi-rich team that’s had trouble finding a first baseman over the years. The Rangers come to mind, as do the Red Sox. Call it the Mitch Moreland Conundrum. The Yankees can wait for Greg Bird, or they can spend $35,000 on a Honda Civic with all the options and features. Might be a little much, but they can afford it.

If the Yankees weren’t worried about the salary-cap-competitive-balance-luxury tax, they would be my favorites. As is, I think they’ll focus on pitching and figure out first base on their own. Which leaves ...

The likely fit

I don’t get why the Padres are interested, either. They have a first baseman: Wil Myers, who was moved to first base for a reason. They aren’t necessarily in the portion of the success cycle where they benefit disproportionately from acquiring a win-now player. They don’t usually spend a lot, so this would be one of their few big-ticket items. They have a sabermetrically minded front office, so surely they can see the dangers of a good-not-great first baseman making great first baseman money.

And yet that’s the rumor. It’s an incredibly silly rumor. But I’m going to trust in the tweets and assume there’s something I don’t know. Maybe there’s a Bring Wally Joyner Back club with some serious political power.

Prediction

Rockies, six years, $135 million. Surprise, suckers! I know they just spent money on Ian Desmond...for some reason...and they’ll have to make a decision on Charlie Blackmon and Nolan Arenado soon. But this is the unrealistic contract they’d feel comfortable giving to those two, so they’ll basically be getting a bargain by locking up a clubhouse leader at those rates.

Just don’t, you know, look too closely at the stats.

And in the meantime, they’ll get Hosmer to slot in the middle of their lineup, taking advantage of his high-average and high-OBP ways and looking to build on their wild card season.

Because, really, I typed “Padres” out six times, stared at it, and deleted it every time. I just can’t see that.

The Rockies, though? As long as we’re just making this stuff up — and, friends, I clearly am — why not go with the mystery team? They swooped on a player who lasted a while in free agency last year to everyone’s surprise. They should probably do the smart thing and re-sign Mark Reynolds for far less money and put the savings in the Arenado war chest.

What this post presupposes is ... what if they didn’t?