UPDATE: This sure sounds like the kind of report you hear when a deal is eventually going to get done.
From Jon Heyman today:
I decided to do this as an update to yesterday’s post on Hosmer, both because it’s the same subject matter and because that post has all my thoughts on why the Cubs signing Hosmer wouldn’t be TERRIBLE (even if not preferred).
Happy New Year!
*original post follows*
For the second time this week, the Chicago Cubs are being attached to free agent first baseman Eric Hosmer. First it was Bruce Levine reporting that Hosmer, Trey Mancini, and Dominic Smith were among the first base options on the Cubs’ radar, and now it’s Jon Heyman using similar language on Hosmer.
From Heyman: “While the hometown Marlins make some sense for Eric Hosmer, he’s on the radar of the Cubs and Orioles.”
I know that Hosmer is not among our favorite first base options for the Cubs, even in a limited market, but let me take this opportunity to put on The Positivity Hat and talk about why it might not be the worst move in the world:
1.) Hosmer doesn’t have a great bat for a first baseman, but he does still have an above-average bat. Hosmer was exactly a league average bat by wRC+ in his five seasons with San Diego, but the last three seasons he was actually at .271/.335/.407/107 wRC+. He doesn’t provide much power, as he’s more of a contact guy, but you do wonder if he would get a modest boost from the new shift rules.
2.) Hosmer is a lefty, who is a career .287/.353/.457/119 wRC+ hitter off of righties. This one cuts both ways, because ideally you’d have a righty at first base to (eventually) platoon with Matt Mervis and/or take off some of his load as he adjusts to the big leagues. But on the other hand, the Cubs could just straight up use another lefty bat. Mervis *will* be a lefty bat for them eventually, but you’d hate to rush him if you don’t have to.
3.) Hosmer’s ugly contract situation over the years probably distorted our perception of him as a baseball player a bit. The contract went south almost immediately, but that’s kind of a separate issue from “can this guy improve your lineup?” And now the contract is not an issue.
4.) Which, by the way, is the biggest plus on Hosmer: because he’s still being paid out by the Padres for THREE more years, any team signing him is on the hook only for the big league minimum ($700K), and you could theoretically retain him at that price for all three seasons. If Hosmer is still a useful player – even in a part-time role – that’s a pretty valuable guy to have on a league-minimum deal. At 33, it’s possible Hosmer declines too rapidly for anything beyond 2023 to matter, but, again, the PADRES are the ones that have to pay him. So if it doesn’t work out in 2023, no harm, no foul. You release him and move on.
5.) For the Cubs, adding Hosmer – instead of spending, say, $10 million on Mancini – would mean the Cubs have over $9 million available to spend on another bat or another reliever or even a trade piece some team wants to move. If the Cubs do have a budget (let’s be real, they do), then it might be a situation where Hosmer + Other Guy > Mancini.
From where I sit, there are three potential drawbacks to signing Hosmer. First and most obviously, it means you’re not landing some obviously better in free agency or trade. I’m not sure that guy exists anymore this offseason, outside of Mancini, and that’s a somewhat close call as it is. Second, there’s the roster spot(s) – Hosmer takes up a 26-man roster spot and a 40-man roster spot. That’s not a zero consideration, as clearly the Red Sox decided he wasn’t worth that when they let him go. Last, you have to ask – with any player addition – what the impact is in the clubhouse. I remember reading vague rumors about a deterioration on that front the last few years, but I’m not sure that is deserved. To the contrary, you do see a whole lotta stuff out there about Hosmer’s leadership, and the positive impact he can have.
Oh, wait, there’s one other thing: Hosmer rates out as a below-average defensive first baseman. The numbers don’t indicate he’s absolute butcher over there, but you could not expect him to be a plus or anything close to it. Of course, the Cubs have dealt with some meh defense at first since Anthony Rizzo departed, so maybe it would still feel like a step up.
Balance it all out, and maybe I’m not as opposed to the Cubs landing Hosmer as I thought I would be. And certainly not as opposed to it as I would’ve been at the start of the offseason when there were still options aplenty.
No, he’s not the “bat” we hoped the Cubs would land this offseason. Or even the second or third bat. But we can deal only in the reality that exists right now, and right now, Hosmer is arguably better than doing nothing, and his addition would not impact the Cubs’ ability to make any other moves financially, which is a big plus. So I tend to think it’s really just a question on the roster spot. Is Hosmer worth a roster spot? Reasonable minds can differ on that one.