With Eric Hosmer, the Kansas City Royals showed us that often times letting go is the best option. We should keep that in mind while making choices for next season and beyond.
Eric Hosmer will forever be remembered as one of the fundamental elements that came together to produce the Royals World Series teams of 2014 and 2015. He hit in the meat of the order every day and he played above average first base defense. He was a leader on those championship squads. Fans adored him. And, the Royals handled letting Hosmer leave in free agency as well as they possibly could have.
Hosmer’s final season for the Royals was very impressive. He played in every game. He hit 25 homers. His on base-plus-slugging percentage stayed up near .900 almost the entire season. He hit .318. And we still allowed him to walk in free agency. And, even after his excellent 2017 season, that was the proper move.
When Eric Hosmer came up, in 2011, to a big-league club that was losing 91 games and he hit for an OPS of .800, Royals fans were thrilled. He hit almost 50 extra-base hits in less than 130 games as a 21-year-old and finished 3rd in Rookie of the Year voting. He also hit ground balls in half of his at-bats.
Eric Hosmer was comfortable as a big leaguer from the minute he stepped on the infield dirt at Kauffman Stadium. He would become the first baseman for a team that won back to back American League pennants. But, for those of us who thought his 21-year-old season was just a taste of what Hosmer would do, we would ultimately be disappointed. His rookie season will wind up being one of the better seasons of his career.
Some year to year fluctuations need be assumed when trying to forecast offensive numbers for Eric Hosmer. His batting average has been as low as .232 and as high as .318. But a reasonable expectation for a Hosmer season is probably hitting .280 with 20 homers and an OPS around .750. And those are not terrible numbers. They are, however, imminently replaceable for a first baseman.
Ryan O’Hearn came out of the gate in his first season mashing everything and then he came crashing back to Earth this year. But he and Hosmer have remarkably similar numbers over their last 150 games. Compare the slashes of .265/.310/.425/.735 and .216/.304/.440/.744. One guy gets a lot more base hits while the other one walks more and hits more extra-base hits. Their contribution is ultimately comparable. And neither one of those are the numbers of a guy you want playing first base every game.
I do not write this to bash Eric Hosmer, he will always be special to those of us fans to whom he finally helped bring another title. And it is not to celebrate the fact that the Padres got the raw end of that deal. It is to point out that, in the Hosmer decision, the Royals did the right thing. By letting Hosmer go, the Royals did not let sentiment or nostalgia drive their decision-making. We need to keep that in mind when making decisions now.
When we want to bring back Alex Gordon for one more year. Or have Salvador Perez move to first base. Or believing our young pitchers will all develop and be ready to contribute next season. We need to ask ourselves the tough questions. Can Alex still hit well enough play left fielder every day?
Will Salvador Perez ever hit enough to be an everyday first baseman? Why is Glenn Sparkman pitching anything other than batting practice? The right choices can be the difference between looking for a replacement-level player to fill a spot and paying a replacement level guy $18 million a year.