Among the things the Los Angeles Dodgers have done better than any club in baseball over the past decade is to use bad contracts as a mechanism for adding talent to the organization. To be sure, very few organizations even have the kind of financial might necessary to think about pulling these kinds of maneuvers, and the Dodgers – thanks to a TV contract signed at the height of that market bubble – are with the Yankees in a class of their own. But even the Yankees haven’t really done what the Dodgers have done.
I mention that because the latest from Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin at The Athletic SCREAMS OUT for a team to behave like the Dodgers of yore, since the Dodgers almost certainly wouldn’t be the team helping out the Padres (and vice versa).
Specifically, The Athletic duo report that the Padres, already just clear of the luxury tax for this year, are considering trading first baseman Eric Hosmer specifically so they can reduce their luxury tax number. To do so, they might allow the trading partner to effectively “buy” prospects:
Hosmer, 31, began Monday with a .710 OPS, second-lowest among qualifying first basemen. According to FanGraphs, he ranked last at his position with minus-0.4 Wins Above Replacement. While Hosmer performed markedly better in the shortened 2020 season — and has a .926 OPS this month — sources told The Athletic his name has surfaced in recent trade discussions ….
To trade Hosmer, the Padres likely would have to attach significant prospect value. Eating part of his contract may be a requirement, too. (Hosmer, who is owed $59 million over the next four seasons, has limited no-trade protection this year. If he stays with the Padres through 2022, he would earn 10-and-5 rights and the ability to veto any trade.)
For the purposes of this discussion, you more or less have to look at Hosmer through the lens of his underwater contract ($18M AAV, $21M this year, $21M in 2022, $13M in 2023, 2024, and 2025). There can be no disputing that, particularly for luxury tax purposes, it’s an anchor. Offloading the deal, even if the Padres have to eat some of it, should “cost” them significant prospect currency.
So, you know where this is going. If the Dodgers can’t make a move like this – but it’s their bread and butter – why shouldn’t a team like the Cubs see what’s what? Whether it’s just Hosmer and cash and prospects to the Cubs for something marginal, or whether it’s a larger deal that actually supplies the Padres with talented players, this is a conversation that should be had. It presents an opportunity to use nothing but money to acquire the kinds of prospects who might otherwise be completely off-limits in conversations with the Padres.
The Cubs have had lots of recent conversations about the Padres’ farm system, too, and have assuredly scouted it thoroughly.
As a player, I don’t know exactly what you do with Hosmer for the next four years. I don’t see many clubs out there viewing him as a clear starter at this point, given the league-average bat, rough glove, and four years of meh in San Diego. But with the DH highly likely in the NL next year, maybe having him as part of the mix – he still hits righties decently overall, even if not exceptionally well for a first baseman or a DH, and he’s a high-contact guy – won’t really harm your roster.
None of that is why you’d make this trade, of course. In a worst case scenario, Hosmer doesn’t last more than a year, and then it’s just a matter of you being on the hook for the AAV hit the following three years. Not nothing! It can harm your roster construction! But the Padres know that, too. Which means they would willingly pay prospects to not be the team to have to deal with it.
(Since this is mostly about using money to buy prospects, I’ll only mention the positional fit in passing. In parentheses, even! But, I mean, I’m just saying: the Cubs might have an outgoing first baseman, and might be in a situation where they could genuinely see what Hosmer looked like in 2022 as their starter. That’s cold, cold stuff, and I’d bet on Anthony Rizzo being the better overall player in 2022 than Hosmer. But I’m pointing it out because there are only so many teams that could do the money thing, that are in a desperate prospect accumulation phase, and also might be in a position to see if Hosmer can actually be productive in 2022 at first base. Again: his future value and ability aren’t the focus, and this isn’t about choosing Hosmer over Rizzo. It’s merely about wondering whether Hosmer could also have some on-field value to the Cubs, even though – again again again – the trade would be about the money and the prospects.)