Locking Up Eric Hosmer


As of right now, the Royals are still negotiating with Alex Gordon on a contract extension. It may or may not get done right away, but either way, the Royals have stated interest in keeping him around, and Gordon is interested as well. It’s a matter of getting to the table and agreeing to terms. Since Gordon isn’t a free agent for another two seasons, there’s no rush.

As soon as the Gordon extension situation is resolved, be it by an arbitration hearing, an agreed 2012 salary or extension, the Royals should shift to the next item on the agenda: extending Eric Hosmer.

Eric Hosmer is the most likely player the Royals will have on their roster who could win an MVP award. He’s the rare prospect who has a downside that most figure is still going to be star caliber (barring injury, of course) but with the upside to be a very special hitter.

He’s young, personable, good-looking. He’s marketable. If you go to Royals.com, the player featured on the background isn’t Gordon. It’s not Joakim Soria. It’s not Billy Butler. The player the Royals chose to be the standard bearer for “Our Time” in 2012 is Eric Hosmer.

The idea of signing Hosmer to a long-term deal isn’t a revolutionary one. After he started to take off in 2010, I’m sure the Royals started to note that he’d be the player they thought they were drafting in 2008, someone noted as “the top high school bat in the draft” with immense power potential. His strong start in Omaha in 2011 where he leapfrogged Mike Moustakas on the way to the big leagues and his solid overall rookie season likely tell the Royals that they made the right choice in selecting him third overall in 2008.

After George Brett retired, the Royals collected players that showed the talent and production to become the next big face of Kansas City baseball – Johnny Damon (who infamously appeared in a commercial with Brett where they fought over whose highlights to watch), Mike Sweeney, Carlos Beltran and Gordon (dubbed the next George Brett before he’d even signed for his bonus with the Royals). They lost Damon when it became clear that they wouldn’t be able to retain him under his contract demands. They had to trade Beltran when a contract extension fell through due to a dispute over a million dollars or so. Not per year, but over the life of the contract.

The Royals did manage to sign Sweeney to an extension. A big slugging first baseman and an all-around nice guy, he was the type of ballplayer who makes a marketing department’s job easy. The Royals, perhaps cursed, chose the wrong star to extend, as Sweeney ran into back problems that limited his ability to stay on the field and diminished his production. After a career year, Sweeney signed a deal for 2003-2004 that allowed him to become a free agent if the Royals didn’t reach .500 or better. In 2003, they did just that, locking him up until 2007. Unfortunately for the Royals, right when Sweeney seemed to be blossoming into one of the premier hitters in the league, he was starting to experience back troubles and he never really got back to the same level as before.

There’s risk in signing a player to a long term deal, but in the case of Hosmer, he’s younger than Sweeney at the time and Hosmer didn’t come up through the minors as a catcher either. Let’s assume he won’t suffer any debilitating back problems.

Hosmer is a Scott Boras client. Boras doesn’t like negotiating extensions unless it turns out to be lucrative, like Carlos Gonzalez‘s seven year, $80 million deal.

Buster Olney reported that according to an agent he spoke to, it would take a ten year deal worth $80-90 million to lock him up. As Mike Axisa noted on MLB Trade Rumors, once Hosmer’s arbitration years (and he’ll have four due to being a Super Two player) finish up, the Royals could end up paying him similar money to another Super Two player, Hunter Pence, who has received $20.8 million in three years of arbitration and, by Axisa’s estimate, will reach around $32 million after four arbitration years.

So if that’s a similar path for Hosmer’s arbitration (and it may be more if he outperforms Pence or if salaries continue to rise and figures exchanged end up inflating the cost), let’s say the Royals pay him the league minimum in 2012 and 2013 (totalling around a million) then his $32 over four years, and that’s $33 over six seasons. If we say the extension would cost the Royals $85 million over ten years, that leaves an extra four years and $52 million and keeps Hosmer in Kansas City through 2021 (which sounds absurd to be citing that as a year).

For the type of production we could see from Hosmer, $13 million a season when he’s 28 to 32 years old isn’t that bad, especially considering what the market may look like by that time. David Glass, oft-criticized owner of the Royals, has suggested that the Royals need to extend players from this group of potential stars.

Unfortunately, Boras isn’t the type of agent to allow a Tampa-style deal. Evan Longoria‘s famous extension is unlikely to happen again. Longoria was called up to the big leagues on April 12, 2008. He signed a six year deal for a total of $17 million within a week. The Rays hold two options on him for 2015 and 2016. They worked a similar deal with top prospect Matt Moore that pays him a bit more up front and gives them team options from 2017-2019. Matt Moore, the game’s top prospect according to several outlets, is not guaranteed more than $10 million in any year of the deal (though incentives are in place that could make the deal surpass that in the final year). Neither Longoria nor Moore were Boras clients.

If Eric Hosmer is the player the Royals think he is, he needs to be the focal point of their budgeting over the next year and every year after if no deal is reached.

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