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Eric Hosmer: A Career Retrospective

The road from major contract to major punchline moves very quickly.

In a recent article revolving around Nick Castellanos, I mentioned how social media loves almost nothing more than a bit. But that one thing that social media does love more than a bit is a punchline. Unfortunately for Eric Hosmer, anyway.

News of the San Diego Padres‘ intense pursuit and subsequent acquisition, of Juan Soto was quickly derailed when the deal appeared to come down to a willingness on Hosmer’s part to waive his no-trade clause. Such a decision would mean leaving San Diego — an unfortunate prospect both for the city itself and the team currently constructed — for the Washington Nationals. Suffice to say, that’s a decision almost no one would be eager to make.

End of an Era

Obviously, things transpired in a way that very much benefited the Padres. The deal was unimpacted by Hosmer’s denial of waiving the no-trade clause, while Luke Voit headed east in his stead. Meanwhile, A.J. Preller was able to concoct a second deal involving Hosmer, instead sending him to Boston. And therein, the Eric Hosmer Era in San Diego came to an end.

In many ways, the arrival of Eric Hosmer in San Diego signaled something of a new era for the franchise. Free and clear of the last time they “went for it”, the next couple of years saw the arrivals of Fernando Tatis, Jr., Manny Machado, and the rest of San Diego’s barrage of talent on both sides of the ball. And yet, since that turnaround, much of the buzz out of the organization has revolved around getting Eric Hosmer out of town.

Won’t Anybody Take This Guy?

There was some talk last offseason of the Chicago Cubs taking on a prospect in order to take on the contract. Then in the spring, a deal was almost consummated with the New York Mets involving Hosmer & Chris Paddack, among others. Even in the third run with Washington, the Padres remained unable to move Hosmer. The difference at that time is that it was on his terms.

So instead Hosmer is a member of the Boston Red Sox. Instead of a white-hot, rising organization in San Diego, or one hitting the restart in Washington, he’s now with a team that doesn’t quite have a direction, but obviously has an impressive track record of bouncing back in the last couple of decades.

Regardless of Hosmer’s team context, the question is how a player who, by all accounts, has been a great dude in clubhouses, as well as a serviceable player, has spent the bulk of his time since leaving Kansas City serving as a social media punchline.

The answer is really quite simple. The eight-year, $144 million deal that Hosmer signed with the Padres never matched the caliber of player he was. Even at his best with the Royals, it was going to be impossible to live up to.

The Wrong Side of History

After all, this is a guy who ranks 25th in fWAR (10.2) among first basemen since 2011. Hosmer has performed to such a degree that the names ahead of him are guys you haven’t thought about in a few years. Joe Mauer, Prince Fielder, Mike Napoli. Good-to-great players, sure, but guys that have been gone for a while now and still sit ahead on the leaderboard.

He’s never been the hitter he was in his final season in Kansas City when he posted a wRC+ of 135. His years in San Diego added up to wRC+ figures of 95, 92, 128, 102, and 107 this year. That 128 outlier occurred during the COVID-shortened 2020, a season that also included a power outlier in the form of a .231 ISO. Even this year, a year in which he hit .389 in April, has been marked by disaster. He’s hit roughly .240 since with a wRC+ of 83.

Worse yet, Hosmer’s defense has been miserable throughout his career. Among that same group of first basemen over the last decade, which includes 90 players, Hosmer ranks dead last in Def rating (-164.8). His -17 Defensive Runs Saved sit fourth from the bottom, while his -39 Outs Above Average are last among players for whom that figure was actually recorded. He’s been so, so bad with the glove.

Hosmer’s massive contract came on the heals of a season in which he posted a career-best in wRC+, yes. He also had the third-lowest HardHit% of his career (29.5) and still, BABIP’d .351. But when he did elevate the ball, it went over the fence. He struck out at barely a 15 percent clip and walked nearly 10 percent of the time. It was a good year, even if the underlying numbers never favored him. For the Padres, it was $144 million a year. For the rest of us…not quite.

Mainstream Perception

And that’s the reality of Eric Hosmer. The numbers have never really favored him. The only ones that have are sitting in his bank account. But should that be his fault? The same question could be asked of any player who fails to live up to a lucrative contract.

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter. Character doesn’t matter. The clubhouse doesn’t matter. The only thing that matters, in the eyes of general perception, is production. If it was anything else, a Hosmer or a Jason Heyward would have an entirely different appreciation from the general populace. Hosmer’s production has never been on par with the number with which he will always be attached.

This is the part where you really have to consider the human side of it. The Padres signed Eric Hosmer to that contract. By all accounts, he very much jived with their clubhouse. To waive a no-trade clause in the middle of the year and leave a potential pennant race for perpetual mediocrity for the remainder of the deal is not an enviable position. Nobody in that position would be eager to do so. His denial in waiving that is as relatable a thing as a professional athlete could do.

So onto Boston he goes. Does he rehabilitate that deal with the Red Sox? Probably not. But Boston doesn’t care; they’re only on the hook for the minimum. He’s also likely an upgrade over whatever they’ve rolled out at the position to date.

As a mainstream audience, though, we’re primarily concerned with hindsight. And hindsight tells us that Hosmer’s deal with the Padres was among the worst investments in recent memory. But context is important, too. It was an organization desperate for a splash at the time. Hosmer gave them that. And, in turn, the Padres skyrocketed to the forefront of our consciousness. Is there a correlation? Maybe. Maybe not. It ultimately doesn’t matter.

What does matter is that everybody learned something from this outcome. A.J. Preller learned about no-trade clauses. Major League organizations learned about paying for outlier seasons (though MLB contracts are a mega-issue all their own). And fans got a closer glimpse at the human element than they typically do. The rest of us are just trying to figure out what exactly to make of the rest of it.

(Photos by Icon Sportswire) Adapted by Shawn Palmer (@PalmerDesigns_ on twitter)

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. A former high school English teacher, Randy now works in the corporate world and resides in Arizona.

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