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Why the San Diego Padres Just Signed Eric Hosmer

It doesn’t change much, but at least they’re trying

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

After months of rumors, the San Diego Padres have signed free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. The Padres’ interest in the former Kansas City Royal dates back at least to early December; as early as January 3, a seven-year, $140 million offer leaked. But after a lengthy flirtation that makes When Harry Met Sally look positively straightforward, Hosmer is on his way to San Diego for eight years and $144 million with an opt-out after five years of the heavily front-loaded deal.

It’s the biggest contract of the offseason in terms of years and total dollars, and Hosmer was one of the biggest names on the market as one of the leaders of the Royals teams that went to back-to-back World Series in 2014 and 2015. But it’s still oddly underwhelming.

Hosmer was the third overall pick in the 2008 draft and a consensus top-25 prospect in 2009 and 2011, but the power potential he showed as an amateur never really developed—his career high in home runs is 25, which isn’t very much for a first baseman in this day and age. More than anything, Hosmer looked like a good example of why you don’t draft first basemen in the first round.

Nevertheless, he was one of the faces of those great Royals teams, and he got a ton of playing time for Team USA at the 2013 and 2017 World Baseball Classics, so he developed a following among the type of fans and analysts who think bunting is sound, fundamental baseball and walks are an expression of cowardice. As a result, Hosmer was vastly overrated.

But you know what? He’s fine. He’s possibly into so-overrated-he’s-underrated territory at this point in his career. In 2017, Hosmer hit .318/.385/.498, a 132 OPS+, with 25 home runs, 98 runs scored, 66 walks, and 4.0 bWAR—all either new career highs or tying previous career highs. He’s durable, having qualified for the batting title in each of his seven big-league seasons and playing 158 or more games in each of the past three. And at 28, Hosmer is a couple of years younger than many of his free-agent contemporaries, which means San Diego will enjoy more of his good years than is normal for a free agent.

Hosmer isn’t a game changer for a team that outperformed its run differential by 12 games last year and still finished 71-91, but he’s competent. That means he’ll fit right in with San Diego’s other big offseason acquisitions, infielders Freddy Galvis and Chase Headley; neither Galvis nor Headley is that good, but they won’t embarrass you.

Not being embarrassed is a serious concern for San Diego. The Padres haven’t had a winning record since 2010, and their most interesting player over that time is a fictional back-end starter from a TV show that lasted 10 episodes. Last year, they rostered not one but three Rule 5 draftees, and in 2016, general manager A.J. Preller was suspended for deceiving the Red Sox about pitcher Drew Pomeranz’s medical history. Before signing Hosmer, the Padres had just $70 million committed to payroll in 2018—$20 million of which was going to players who played for other teams. At no point in the 21st century have the Padres had a payroll above the league median, and they’ve broken the top 20 just once in the past decade.

The PECOTA projection system at Baseball Prospectus has San Diego as a 74-win team before signing Hosmer. Does Hosmer do anything more than bump them up to maybe 76 or 77? Probably not, which means they’ll just finish in last place by less than they would have. Still, so many teams are running their clubs like a money-laundering scam; at least San Diego’s trying, which is more than you can say for the Rays or Marlins.

Hosmer’s fine. The contract’s fine. Neither is going to move the needle that much. But the state of baseball’s economics is such that clubs deserve praise for making a good-faith effort to be competitive, so here’s to the Padres for not being embarrassing.