Kansas City Royals: Playing Devil’s Advocate on Eric Hosmer
Fans of the Kansas City Royals have adamantly expressed their desire to see Eric Hosmer don the Friday gold and the Sunday powder blue for the rest of his playing days. As Spring Training begins, however, Hosmer is still without a team. The overwhelming sentiment is that we at Kings of Kauffman want him back at all costs. What argument is to be made on the other side, though?
To preface – I was originally in the ‘let Hosmer walk’ camp following the end of the 2017 season, despite the emotional send-off and inevitable bang to end the era of the ‘core four.’ As the offseason has progressed, my thoughts on the matter have slightly shifted, but not to the level of most Kansas City Royals fans. I love the Royals as much as anyone else, but I’m going to analyze each side of this argument.
Argument One: Fan Interest
Kansas City fans are as loyal as they come. Many critics cite low attendance at the start of 2014 as a rebuttal, but as long as their organizations commit to putting a winning team on the field, the common Kansas City fan will show up. Fans were unhappy for the better part of two decades following the death of Mr. Kauffman because they felt that the organization was not putting forth the effort necessary to compete. To say that a spike in attendance the past few years is attributed to Eric Hosmer is not only incredibly short-sided, but simply incorrect.
We loved chanting ‘MOOSE,’ Salvy’s splashes, and the dominance of the Herrera-Davis-Holland combination, but these guys were around for a couple of years before the postseason success. In Eric Hosmer’s debut season of 2011, the Kansas City Royals averaged 21,290 fans per game, which was an increase of about 1,300 fans per game from the previous season. This number was stagnant until the team took off in 2014. In the latter half of 2014 as well as the next two seasons, the team drew well over 30,000 fans per night. If you prefer to look at TV ratings, fine.
From 2007-2010, the team averaged a nightly rating of 2.8 in Kansas City. In 2011, that skyrocketed to 3.3. Seriously though, the ratings did not take off until the team started to win. In 2015, they drew a rating of 12.3, which was the highest rating in any baseball market over the previous decade.
This spike in viewership and attendance is due to a winning record as opposed to the names on the jerseys. This is not to suggest that there is a correlation between each win and an increase in attendance, but fans respond to the general competitiveness of the team. Does Eric Hosmer draw a few extra viewers for the Kansas City Royals? Sure. Could he be the difference between 19,000 and 21,000 fans per game if the team wins 70 games this season? Yes. Would I rather watch the team with Eric Hosmer than without? Of course. Will the town still turn out in droves to watch the team due to a free agent signing alone? Absolutely not.
Argument Two: No Sympathy for a Billionaire
Proponents of building a team through free agency always quip that there is no reason that the team cannot spend more money. After all, we are talking about the money of David Glass, not our own. While this may be true, these are the cards that we were dealt. Dayton Moore has the tough task of selling such a lucrative contract to a notorious cost-cutter such as Glass while the team undergoes a rebuild. Moreover, if the contract were to not work, he would have even more difficulty expanding the payroll (like he did in 2015) when he sees a narrow opportunity to capitalize on a chance to win again in the future.
The more concrete argument against building through free agency is that it does not work. The 2017 Astros, 2016 Cubs, 2015 Royals, and the recent Giants dynasty are all champions of the rebuild. Sure, they used free agency as a supplement. The Royals would not have won in 2015 without the contributions of Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales. To achieve and sustain success, though, a team must lay a solid foundation of home-grown talent and use trade to offset its identified weaknesses.
Many fans point to the 2009 Yankees as a team who was built through free agency, but that infield contained many expensive pieces. Players such as Teixeira, Cano, Jeter, and Rodriguez were historically powerful, but at a price. As near and dear to our hearts as they are, guys like Hosmer, Moustakas, and Escobar are not as capable. The last thing the Kansas City Royals want is to be tied to a grossly-overpriced contract. Do the names Albert Pujols, David Price, or Jason Heyward ring a bell? Tying up Eric Hosmer for seven, eight, or nine years would affect the next star we want to retain in the same way Alex Gordon’s contract hampers our ability to pursue Hosmer, and in a much bigger fashion.
Argument Three: Competitiveness
Barring an unforeseen chain of events, the Kansas City Royals are not likely staring at a playoff berth this year, and unfortunately Eric Hosmer cannot change that alone. Now, he did have a spectacular season. He got on base at a clip near .400, won a gold glove and captured a silver slugger award. He posted a very respectable WAR of 4.0, and played every single day.
However, there are things that Eric Hosmer cannot do, no matter how much we all love him. Eric Hosmer cannot bring back Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain. Hosmer cannot revert the bullpen from being pedestrian back to being one of the best the game has ever seen. He cannot bring back the magic that we experienced as the team came together to dominate the American League playoffs in back-to-back years all by himself. Even if he somehow could, simply retaining pieces from the World Series title team has led us to a 161-163 record over the past two seasons. It is time to move on.
Try and recall why that championship Kansas City Royals team succeeded. We have not seen a baseball team be such a literal sum of all of its parts for a long time. No individual stood out and it was a complete 25-man effort each night. The insertion or removal of one individual did not taint the mojo of the rest of the club. The term ‘keep the line moving’ embodied everything that club was about. The fact that none of the guys entertained the ‘superstar’ mindset is what made them so much fun to watch.
We must exercise caution. Fans tend to now see Eric Hosmer as the explanation for these characteristics rather than a proponent of them. Crowning an individual from that championship club will not change the short-term outlook of the team. With that said, it could hamper the club in the long-term. Hosmer may not always produce at his current level.
What about the Intangibles?
James Shields did not contribute to the Kansas City Royals in their 2015 run on the field. His legacy played as big of a role in winning the World Series as anyone, though. He overhauled the attitude of the rotation, set an example in the clubhouse and provided irreplaceable guidance for younger players. Eric Hosmer would, no doubt, have the opportunity to do an extreme version of this for the next wave of Kansas City Royals prospects. Eric Hosmer’s teammates tout his leadership capabilities as unmatched by most players today.
Whenever adversity hits, Eric has been the guy to fall on the sword. He is the first to speak to the media and the one to serve as a figurehead for the team. Additionally, he has won at seemingly every level he has competed at. It is completely understandable why many consider paying him is the right thing to do. Handing out a massive contract to a battle-tested and productive leader entering his prime athletic years could be justifiable.
Given these points, I would be fine if the Kansas City Royals brought back Eric Hosmer. However, considering the historical unsuccessfulness of such contracts as well as the non-dependant relationship between fan interest and a namesake, I would also be fine with the Royals letting Hosmer walk, and you should be too.
Dayton Moore will not sway from his efforts to rebuild based on Eric Hosmer’s decision, thankfully. If the club really believes that Eric Hosmer will be just as productive when the team is ready to win again as he is today, then it’s justified. With Spring Training getting underway this week, a decision is hopefully near.
Regardless of what decision Eric Hosmer makes, he has already cemented himself in Kansas City lore. I attended Eric’s debut in May of 2011 and have marveled at his maturity and persona ever since. His number will be rightfully retired by the club. People will tell their grandkids fond stories of the infamous mad dash. Best of all, he was part of the club to return Kansas City to baseball relevancy.
What say you, Royals fans? Despite your love for Eric Hosmer, would you be alright if he does not return? Let us know!