Cue the haunting Godfather music.
I’m about play Royals general manager and in this case, I’ll undertake a version of Dayton Moore that possesses unlimited resources and doesn’t take no for an answer. This approach is the only way to find an answer to the burning question: what would it really cost to lock Eric Hosmer up to a contract extension?
Some have said it’s impossible, that Hosmer is already as good as gone.They bemoan the fact that he’ll eventually go to the Yankees or the Red Sox, because they’ll be the only ones who can meet Hosmer’s (read: Scott Boras’) inevitable meteoric salary demands*. For those who have aligned themselves with that notion, I’ll respond with this: you just might be right and wrong simultaneously.
*This incessant worry about the Yankees robbing all of the best Royals is borderline laughable. The last notable player to move (immediately) from Royal Blue to Yankee Pinstripes was a 38-year old Chili Davis in 1997. In the interest of full disclosure, however, it should be noted that the Yankees won a World Series title in each of Davis’ two seasons in New York. The moral of this aside: Chili Davis is the man.
It’s tough to argue, for instance, that Hosmer won’t be due a massive contract once he hits free agency. Super agent Scott Boras would (0stensibly) never let a prize like Hosmer skip out on that process. So if you have hopes of Hosmer becoming the next great lifelong Royal, I suggest you table those pipe dreams immediately.
But there is one scenario for a Hosmer extension that maintains plausibility, and it doesn’t even involve placing the severed head of a favored show horse at the foot of his (or Boras’) bed. First let’s consider the words of the man himself. The Kansas City Star’s own Sam Mellinger wrote a recent piece discussing Hosmer’s willingness to sign a contract with the team in which Hosmer “absolutely” left open the possibility of extending his stay in KC.
Obviously, there’s not a salt shaker in the world large enough to hold all the grains you’ll need to take Hosmer’s statement with. But it’s certainly not a bad sign. If Hosmer is indeed open to the notion of re-upping with the Royals, then the next logical question is this: What qualifies for an offer that Hosmer (and his agents) can’t refuse?
It depends on how much you think Hosmer can earn in his peak arbitration years. The first year arbitration salary record for batters belongs to the 2007 version of Ryan Howard, who at 27 years old won his arbitration case to earn a $10 million salary. Of course, Howard was otherworldly in 2006, coming off a campaign in which he hit 58 home runs and won the National League MVP. I’m merely showing where the ceiling is.
And in order to sign Hosmer now, the Royals will be forced closer to the ceiling than they likely feel comfortable with. By the second year of arbitration, many teams are signing their budding superstars to lucrative extensions and/or buying out arbitration years. Howard earned an extension and a $15 million salary before his second year of arbitration. Miguel Cabrera, in his own second year of arbitration eligibility, signed an extension that paid him $11.2 million that season.
These are just examples to illustrate what the top arbitration eligible players are worth. Ryan Howard earned $44 million during (what would have been) his three arbitration eligible seasons. That’s the bar. Hosmer’s case, however, is a different animal. He is on pace to be eligible for arbitration in 2014, when he’ll still only be 24 years old. His potential is still not fully realized. Conversely, Howard was already in his late twenties when he hit arbitration. And he had already (very likely) played his best professional season.
So who is a better comparison for Hosmer’s career arc? I’ll give you a clue: it’s someone currently making a boatload of money. Check out this comparison of slash lines (batting average/On-base percentage/slugging percentage) between Hosmer and “Player A” during his first full big league season:
Hosmer (age 21) : .293/.334/.465 for a .799 OPS
Player A (age 23): .290/.340/.469 for a .799 OPS
Nearly identical, right? For further comparison, here’s what Player A put up in his second full big league season, versus Hosmer’s ZiPS projections for 2012.
Hosmer (age 22): .304/.354/.474 for an .828 OPS
Player A (age 24): .297/.352/.490 for an .842 OPS
Again, pretty darn close here. Player A is slightly more productive, but he is also two years older than Hosmer. Furthermore, would anybody really be surprised if Hosmer ended up matching Player A’s age 24 production in 2012?
After that aforementioned age 24 season, Player A avoided his first two seasons of arbitration by signing a two year, $11.1 million contract extension with Los Angeles Dodgers. Player A’s name is Matt Kemp, the same guy who signed an 8 year, $160 million extension after the 2011 season.
Granted, Kemp squeezed an MVP caliber season in between his age 24 season and his massive extension this off-season. But he also squeezed in a 2010 that saw him put up a mediocre .760 OPS as a 25-year old. It goes to show that elite talents don’t necessarily have to be perfect to earn massive contracts; they just have to keep showing flashes of that awe-inspiring potential. Barring injury, Hosmer seems a relative lock to keep doing that.
With these comparisons considered, and considering the reality that Hosmer will have to be knocked off his feet to sign a long-term extension, I’ve devised my official offer. To make it worth the investment, I’ll need to purchase at least one of Hosmer’s free agent seasons and hold a team option for another. Because this this a “Godfather” offer that Hosmer simply can’t refuse, the numbers may seem high. But the deal is designed that way intentionally. This contract offer is a message to fans, a token of the front office’s determination to field a winner for the city of Kansas City, even if it means negotiating with Scott Boras.
The offer breaks down as such:
6 years, $59.9 million with a 7th year option at $20 million. If exercised, the contract becomes a 7 year, $79.9 million deal that locks Hosmer up until his age 29 season, when he will still be able to secure a second major payday. Here’s how the figures would break down.
- 2012: 1.3 million
- 2013: 4.3 million
- 2014: 8 million
- 2015: 11.8 million
- 2016: 16.5 million
- 2017: 18 million
- 2018: 20 million
There are a couple of things to be gained from making this kind of enormous offer. First, if Hosmer doesn’t take that deal, then he really doesn’t want to be here. By turning that offer away, Hosmer will effectively signal the front office that they should pursue other pieces of their young core and work out a plan to trade him at peak value. Secondly, a “Godfather” offer like this is a smash hit with fans: a win-win proposition. On one end, you could have Eric Hosmer signing a long-term extension that buys out two years of free agency. On the other end, fans see that the team is serious about building around their talented young core, and the culpability for not locking up a young star will shift from the team’s shoulders to those of agent Scott Boras.
In all honesty, though, Hosmer should definitely take that deal. I crafted it based off the 7 year, $80 million contract extension Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez signed to avoid arbitration after his monster 2010 (.336/.376/.596), when he won the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger awards. Hosmer’s contract value would fall only $100,000 short of Gonzalez’ haul from the Rockies, which is no coincidence. Gonzalez is a Boras client as well, and I wouldn’t want to disturb the pecking order of his client list.
If you think that Gonzalez is too good to serve as a comp for Hosmer, then I suggest you delve a bit deeper into each player’s statistics. Actually, check that, I won’t even make you do the work. Carlos Gonzalez plays at a hitter’s haven in Coors Field, while Hosmer plays in the pitching mecca (at least for the opposition) of Kauffman Stadium. So let’s use their road splits from 2011 as a comparison.
Hosmer (age 21): .270/.308/.486 for an OPS of .793*
Gonzalez (age 25): .252/.317/.440 for an OPS of .757
*Did you realize that Hosmer hit 16 of his 19 home runs last year on the road? I knew Kauffman was a pitcher’s park, but I didn’t realize it was such a desolate wasteland for power hitters. Makes me wonder if the woeful franchise record of 36 home runs will really be broken in the near future. Steve Balboni must be smiling triumphantly right now.
Gonzalez is an excellent player, one of the top 20 hitters in the game, but is his ceiling so much higher than a 22-year old Eric Hosmer? I’m not sure about that.
Would Hosmer (and Boras) accept the aforementioned extension offer? Can they possibly refuse $79.9 million? Not if I’m the one delivering the package. I don’t take no for an answer.
What do you think?