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Nightengale's Notebook: Eric Hosmer, Luke Voit suddenly feeling unwanted with uncertain futures

·15 min read
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PHOENIX — All-Star first baseman Eric Hosmer came to San Diego when no one wanted to be there.

Now, the San Diego Padres are trying to get rid of him when he doesn’t want to leave.

Luke Voit, who led all of baseball last season with 22 homers, and believed he’d be an integral part of the New York Yankees’ future, instead found himself cast aside while trying to return from the injured list.

It’s the ugly part of baseball when a player gives his heart and soul to a franchise, but when the performance doesn’t live up to what's expected, the soul out of a relationship can be shredded.

“I know it’s part of the business,’’ Hosmer tells USA TODAY Sports, “but I don’t want to leave. I created a lot of relationships here with a lot of people in this organization and a lot of people at Petco Park. I want to see this thing through and bring a championship here to San Diego.

“That’s all I ever wanted.’’

Hosmer, 31, who’s in the fourth year of an eight-year, $144 million contract, held his breath for several days when trade rumors swirled, and finally exhaled when the trade deadline expired July 30 without him going anywhere.

Eric Hosmer is in the fourth year of an eight-year, $144 million contract.
Eric Hosmer is in the fourth year of an eight-year, $144 million contract.

“It was definitely weird man,’’ Hosmer said. “I was checking my phone. Checking Twitter to see what was going on. It was the first time that I ever knew that being traded was a real possibility.’’

Hosmer read about the Padres trying to put him in a package for then-Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo, while also being part of a potential deal with the Chicago Cubs. He never asked any questions. Never confronted anyone from management about the veracity of the talks. He tried to tell himself it’s a business, but still, he’s the one who helped lead them out of their rebuild, and his mission isn’t complete.

“It would have stung,’’ Hosmer said. “Eventually I would have gotten over it, and moved on, but it definitely would have stung.

“I still don’t know what’s going to happen after this year, but at least I’m here through the rest of the season.’’

Hosmer’s teammates told him they don’t want to ever see him go, whether it was at the trade deadline, this winter, or even the next few years, before they win their first World Series title.

“I wouldn’t have been happy at all if he had left,’’ Padres MVP candidate Manny Machado said. “He started this whole winning thing. When he came over here, he changed the organization’s culture. This is all on him.

“When we do win one, he’s going to be a big part of it.’’

Voit, 30, knows the feeling of being unwanted. He's been on the injured list three times this season, and still was a week away from returning when the Yankees tried to trade him, clearing his $4.7 million salary. They couldn’t find any takers, but it didn’t stop them from acquiring first baseman Anthony Rizzo from the Cubs.

You know the mantra: what have you done for me lately?

“I guess it was a little frustrating,” Voit told reporters on a Zoom call. “But, I guess the right opportunity came up for the front office to do something, and I haven’t played 20 (consecutive) games this year.

“My name was getting thrown out there a lot. … I’m just glad to be back and healthy. And I want to do whatever I can to help this team win. And whether that’s on the bench or playing first or whatever.

“It’s a weird spot for sure.”

The Yankees desperately need Voit with Rizzo testing positive for COVID-19 on Aug. 8 and going on the injured list. It’s unknown when Rizzo will return, but in the meantime, they sure could use Voit’s power to keep them in the wild-card berth.

“I want to play and it’s going to be difficult, obviously, when (Rizzo) comes back,” Voit said. “But whenever I was in the minor leagues, too, they always told me, 'I’m playing for you know, 29 other teams.’"

The Padres acquired All-Star second baseman Adam Frazier at the trade deadline, and have Jake Cronenworth and other versatile candidates who could switch positions and play first base, but Hosmer is making sure he remains a fixture in the everyday lineup.

Hosmer is hitting .357 in his last 17 games, including .338 since the All-Star break with a .930 OPS. He has a slash line of .280/.342/.403 with 10 homers and 53 RBI heading into the weekend with the Padres seeking more power.

“Maybe it puts a little chip on your shoulder, or something like that,’’ Hosmer says. “It definitely creates a different feeling, that’s for sure.

“I’m just trying to focus on the game, and put all of that noise behind him.’’

When the offseason comes around, who knows how much longer Hosmer will remain a Padre. He has four years and $60 million remaining after this season, and he would have full no-trade rights after 2022. Yet, as long as he’s wearing the uniform, he plans to make a difference, hoping to be an big part of a Padres’ team that will forever be remembered.

“It’s been fun to see what has happened here,’’ said Hosmer, who won a World Series with the 2015 Kansas City Royals. “The energy from the crowds at Petco have been amazing. It’s just such a different atmosphere now.

“Now when people talk about the Padres, it’s a completely different conversation than versus a couple of years ago.’’

Hosmer has watched San Diego morph into a beautiful sea of Brown and Gold, where it’s impossible to walk through downtown without seeing folks proudly wearing Padre memorabilia. They have already had nine crowds of at least 39,000 fans since opening to full capacity this season, compared to only six crowds that size since Hosmer’s arrival in 2018. They have gone from a doormat to one of the most talented teams in baseball.

“We’ll see, man, you never know what happens in this game,’’ Hosmer said. “All I know is that I’m here for the rest of the season. So I’m going to give it everything I got and we’ll see where we’re at, after that.

“But it would be so special to win something here with these guys and see this thing all of the way through.

“That’s why I came here in the first place.’’

Field of Dreams, analytic style

Ryan Loutos, who grew up in the Chicago area and went to college in St. Louis, never spent any time in Dyersville, Iowa, but sure is having is having his own Field of Dreams moment.

This is a 22-year-old who was a computer-science graduate from Washington University in St. Louis, who had a job lined up for a top financial services firm in Chicago, and was working as an intern for Rapsodo, the popular sports data company that analyzes performance.

Those plans are on hold for now.

These days, he’s pitching for the Class A Palm Beach Cardinals.

Loutos, who was an undrafted NCAA Division III All-America pitcher, and had a job working for Morningstar Inc. in Chicago, is now the first Rapsodo alumnus to become a professional player.

“It’s awesome, I couldn’t ask for anything better,’’ Loutos tells USA TODAY Sports.

Sure, it felt a little strange at first considering he grew up a diehard Chicago Cubs’ fan, but when the St. Louis Cardinals called immediately after the draft, he sure wasn’t about to say no.

“I’m a fan of whoever lets me play baseball awhile longer,’’ says Loutos, who grew up in Barrington, Illinois, an hour outside Chicago. “I put away the rivalries and the teams I grew up cheering for.’’

Certainly, he can be a living, walking billboard for Rapsodo. He yielded a 0.47 ERA with 92 strikeouts, and was Barrington High School’s male athlete of the year, but his fastball only topped out at 85-86 mph. So, when Washington gave him an opportunity to play collegiate baseball, while also getting financial aid for the elite school, he leaped at it.

He became an honor student at Washington’s College of Engineering & Applied Science, while also becoming an All-American pitcher after joining Rapsodo’s offices last fall as an intern.

“I was pretty familiar with a lot of stuff they really did,’’ Loutos said, “but I was able to pick the brains of some of my co-workers and get a better sense of the date, what all of the numbers meant. It made my life a whole lot easier. It was a great learning experience. I just wish I had known about it earlier.’’

Well, before Loutos knew it, his fastball was being clocked in the low 90’s, and he was consistently throwing his curveball, slider and changeup for strikes, with movement. He went 11-1 with a 1.33 his senior year, striking out a school-record 116 batters in 94 2/3 innings, with only 12 walks.

MLB teams suddenly staring paying attention, and pitching in the Cardinals’ backyard, the Cardinals pounced on him minutes after the 20-round draft ended.

“For us, it’s definitely unique,’’ says Seth Daniels, Rapsodo’s director of diamond sports. “We have guys that become front office hires or join analytic teams for teams, but that go straight to working in professional ball as a player. We’re just so happy for him. It’s a culmination of a lot of hard work.’’

Rapsodo has become a fixture in major league baseball beginning in 2017 with the Los Angeles Dodgers, expanding to 18 teams a year later, and now every club utilizes the services, along with about 95% of the NCAA Division 1 programs.

“It can help maximize what their talents are,’’ Daniels says, “and it can validate some of the things we can’t see with the naked eye like spin rates.’’

Loutos, who helped design a website for the Washington baseball program. says he plans to continue working with Rapsodo once the minor-league season ends as an independent contractor. He is already working on a product development program.

Who knows, one day he could be running the popular sports analytics firm, but first, he’s got a dream to pursue.

“I’m going to give baseball everything I can,’’ he says, “to see if I could pitch in the big leagues. And, if one day it doesn’t work out, hey, at least I know I’ve got options.

“Really, I couldn’t ask for anything more.’’

Around the basepaths

– Major League Baseball plans to wait on the results of their investigation, along with the criminal investigation on sexual assault charges by the Pasadena police department, before determining whether they will suspend Dodgers starter Trevor Bauer.

While Bauer is still being paid during administrative leave, he is paid on a prorated share of $8 million at about $300,000 per week, and not $40 million that he is guaranteed as part of his complex three-year, $102 million deal.

Bauer has already received a $10 million signing bonus, and under terms of his contract, is paid $8 million this season, with another $20 million on Nov. 1 that will be deferred if he opts out of his contract.

– New York Mets owner Steve Cohen, who has watched his team in a free-fall of late, still plans to hire a president of baseball operations this winter.

The first call he makes after the year could be to Theo Epstein, who broke the curses with the Boston Red Sox and Chicago Cubs, and is now working as a consultant for MLB.

– While Mets fans mock Bobby Bonilla Day every year, wonder if the Orioles’ fanbase will follow suit with Chris Davis, who retired last week?

Davis, who signed a seven-year, $161 million contract in 2016, only to hit just .185 with 92 homers, will be paid $3.5 million a year from 2023 to 2036, and $1.5 million a year from 2033 through 2037.

Bonilla’s annual $1.193 million payment expires two years earlier when he’s 72 years old.

Davis will be 51 when his contract expires.

– Los Angeles Angels star Mike Trout hasn’t played a game since sustaining a strained right calf muscle on May 17, playing just 36 games. If he doesn’t return this year, he’ll have missed 243 games in the last four full seasons since 2016.

This will be the first time in Trout’s 10-year career that he won’t finish in the top 10 of the American League MVP race, and the injuries are starting to become a concern to the Angels considering he still has nine years remaining on his 10-year, $360 million contract extension.

– The prized free-agent shortstop class suddenly is losing out on some rich suitors.

The Los Angeles Dodgers don’t need a shortstop after trading for Trea Turner, who could replace Corey Seager, and the San Francisco Giants just locked up shortstop Brandon Crawford to a two-year, $32 million deal.

The New York Yankees and Texas Rangers will be able to sit back and choose who they desire between Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story and Javier Baez.

– There has never been a player traded during same season they won an MVP award.

Shortstop Willy Adames of the Milwaukee Brewers is vying to become the first.

The Brewers were two games below .500 before Adames’ arrival, and since have gone 49-23 and running away with the NL Central.

Adames is not only playing fabulous defense at shortstop, but is hitting .297 with 16 homers and 48 RBI.

“He’s arguably impacted our team as much as any player has impacted any team in baseball,’’ Brewers president David Stearns told Milwaukee reporters. “We’ve played as well as any team in all of baseball since he’s been with us. So, if this continues, I think he does deserve to be in that conversation, and I think he’ll be a strong candidate.”

– Does anyone still believe the Giants are a fluke?

Anyone?

They have been in first place since May 31, and entered Saturday with a season-high five game lead over the Dodgers, and 11 over the Padres.

They have beaten up the elite since the All-Star break, too, winning two series against the Dodgers, one against the Astros and another against the Brewers.

The scariest part about the Giants’ unreal success this season thanks to their low-cost, shrewd moves by team president Farhan Zaidi and his front office?

They’ll be as dangerous as any team in baseball on the free agent market.

They have just $46.8 million in player salaries on their books in 2022.

– If the Padres look closely, that object in their rear-view mirror is looming larger and larger.

That is the Cincinnati Reds, who entered Saturday just 2 ½ games behind the Padres for the second and final wild-card spot, and a much more favorable schedule.

The Padres still have 19 games left against the powerful San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, while the Reds have 29 games remaining against team with losing records, including nine with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

FanGraph’s playoff odds reveal that it’s getting closer and closer with the Padres having a 60.8% chance of reaching the postseason with the Reds at 34.3%.

The Padres can only blame themselves for permitting the Reds to hang around.

They are just 31-27 against teams with losing records, the worst winning percentage by any NL contender besides the Mets (26-23). The Reds, meanwhile, are 33-19 against teams with losing records.

“We’ve got to play better overall baseball,” Padres manager Jayce Tingler says. “I think we definitely feel it. I think just trying to do too much.’’

– Kudos to Red Sox ace Chris Sale, who rode the Triple-A Worcester bus for four hours on one road trip during his rehab, and offered to pay the entire hotel bill for their team to stay an extra night in a hotel instead of arriving on the day of the game in Moosic, Pa. against Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.

– The Yankees’ acquisition of starter Andrew Heaney from the Angels at the trade deadline has been a complete bust.

The numbers say it all: Three starts, 15 innings, 15 hits, 15 earned runs, eight home runs, and a 9.00 ERA.

– The Blue Jays, with a makeup game in Anaheim, became the first team to be the home team in four different cities this year: Dunedin, Fla., Buffalo, Toronto and Anaheim.

The 1902 Cleveland Bronchos (yes, that’s the correct spelling) also played in five different home ballparks, but in only two cities, Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio.

– An ugly day for baseball purists this past week when every team played, and not a single pitcher lasted longer than six innings for the first time in MLB history.

Follow Nightengale on Twitter: @Bnightengale

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Eric Hosmer, Luke Voit feeling unwanted with uncertain futures