Eric Hosmer will get paid even though the numbers may argue against it

MLB columnist
Yahoo Sports

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – Earlier this offseason, when asked how much money first baseman Eric Hosmer deserves on the free-agent market, a longtime evaluator said, without a pause, “At least $150 million.” And that same day, a statistical analyst was posed the same question and replied, after some thought, “Maybe $50 million.”

Consider that. A $100 million gap for the same player. If ever there were someone who could bifurcate the now-happily-married scouting and analytics communities, someone who represented the perfect storm of divisive attributes, it is the 28-year-old Hosmer. And as interest begins to build at these Winter Meetings – as the San Diego Padres and Boston Red Sox, among others, including his longtime team, the Kansas City Royals, consider retaining Hosmer’s services for at least the next half-decade – the disparate valuations speak to his confusing spot in the marketplace.

On one hand, there are the baseball men. Baseball men love Eric Hosmer. No. They don’t love Eric Hosmer. They bleeping love Eric Hosmer.

“He is a [expletive] animal,” Jim Leyland said.

Leyland managed a lot of players during more than 3,500 games on the bench, and while his time with Hosmer during this year’s World Baseball Classic was limited, he left fully invested, having won the tournament with Hosmer at first base over MVP candidate Paul Goldschmidt.

“Hosmer’s talented,” Leyland said. “He’s a really good player. He’s one of those guys that knows how to have fun and be serious at the same time. He’s a gem. He’s every manager’s dream as a player. I can tell you that. And I only had him for a couple of weeks.”

The quants fall on the other end of the spectrum, critical of everything from Hosmer’s year-to-year inconsistencies to how defensive metrics brand him a terrible first baseman to his predilection for hitting the ball on the ground. They see his Wins Above Replacement and scoff. They compare him to Lucas Duda, his near-equal in WAR the past four years. They chortle at the idea of a first baseman that produces like Hosmer somehow fetching nine figures.

Kansas City Royals’ Eric Hosmer acknowledges the crowd before batting during the first inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP)
Kansas City Royals’ Eric Hosmer acknowledges the crowd before batting during the first inning of a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP)

Even those fluent in scouting and analytics find Hosmer’s case to be infuriatingly difficult to parse. How does one team’s internal scouting reports grade Hosmer’s glove as an 80 – a top-of-the-charts elite mark – while the publicly available defensive metrics regularly rate him among the game’s worst first basemen?

“In my heart, he’s a $100 million player,” one general manager said. “In my head, I’m not so sure.”

This is the part of the proceedings where an interested party arrives to make an argument for the former. Scott Boras is Hosmer’s agent. Nobody brands his players better. Every winter, Boras arrives upon a new way to sell his players, and while Hosmer’s production does not reek of $100 million success, his abilities go far beyond that.

As the homogenized version of Major League Baseball balances a number of previous statistical advantages held by teams and trims the margins in knowledge, some teams have taken to emphasizing player character as an attribute worth pursuing. This isn’t novel. It’s also the furthest thing from scientific. And its value isn’t – and cannot be – proven in a study of any rigor.

And yet when teams hear Boras’ sales pitch on Hosmer, they receive a full cross-section of Hosmer’s deeds and accomplishments, like he’s the baseball valedictorian who’s ready to stand in the clubhouse and hand out World Series rings. It is Boras’ bet that teams recognize Hosmer not just as a bat and a glove but as a leader whose presence can tangibly improve his teammates.

In classic Boras fashion, he’s even got a name for it.

“It’s what we call our PV – prestige value,” Boras said. “Approach. Accountability. Psychology. We tend to encapsulate all these factors into: You know what? This guy’s a leader. There’s a negative side where players are disruptive. They’re self-serving. Much like in performance, there’s a positive and negative attribute to the PV. When you have a performer who may have 3 WAR and his PV is a minus, obviously you need to factor that in.”

Hosmer’s is not a minus. And when Boras sifts through what he brings, it does match the sentiments of those in the Royals’ front office and clubhouse, who have seen Hosmer playing the face-of-the-franchise role for years. When his teammate Yordano Ventura died in January, Hosmer spoke at the funeral and the opening day memorial service. Growing up in Miami with a mom of Cuban descent, he sponged in the culture and serves as a conduit between the American and Latino wings of a locker room. His work ethic is beyond question. His voice resonates. He’s good-looking enough to win scores of female admirers and cool enough to have men not hate him for it. He can be a marketing dream and handles media with professionalism and intelligence while shielding others from having to do so.

Best of all, he has won – and a number of owners say that is the card Boras plays the most. Never mind that baseball is a 25-man team and nine-man game. A World Series ring imparts gravitas. The pursuit of it is why teams spend $100 million-plus on one person.

“You’re talking about a lot of money per year,” Boras said. “You’re paying that player to be an extraordinary number of things.”

Measuring those things is impossible and important, which makes for a terribly complicated assessment, which is pretty on-brand for Hosmer. Is he a franchise player? Is he a first baseman who doesn’t hit for enough power, which is the antithesis of a franchise player? Is he something in between?

Knowing Hosmer’s bona fides, knowing Boras’ track record, knowing teams’ desire for players who are more than players, he’s going to get paid far more like the former than either of the latter two. Too many people in the game bleeping love him to think otherwise.

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