Eric Hosmer left the KC Royals three years ago. He’s had some good moments since then, but there have also been disappointments.
Together with the rest of his San Diego teammates, Eric Hosmer took forced leave from the National League playoffs a few nights ago. Hosmer, the former KC Royals first baseman hoping to lead the Padres to the same heights he helped the Royals achieve, must now wait for a second World Series title.
The Padres became this short season the exciting team many thought they could and should be, but the Dodgers swept them out of the playoffs with three straight NLDS wins that sent them home to a long winter.
The quick work the Dodgers made of San Diego had to be a bitter pill to swallow, especially for Hosmer, who knows the special taste of a World Championship and, now, how much it undoubtedly hurts to be so suddenly deprived of a second helping.
But elimination from the postseason was just the latest disappointment in his three year San Diego tenure. To make matters worse, it capped an unsatisfying performance by Hosmer, a player to whom the Padres are paying $144 million.
It is no surprise Hosmer played in all of San Diego’s postseason games. Although some will say his 2020 regular season slash of .287/.333/.517 means little because he generated it in just 38 games, all three components of it bettered any of his previous San Diego marks. A broken finger suffered Sept. 7 didn’t slow him down—hitting .287 when the injury occurred, he played through it and didn’t drop a point, ending the season at the same .287. And the Padres weren’t about to miss any of the playoff experience he derived from 31 postseason games as a Royal.
But Hosmer didn’t come through for the Padres, managing just four hits and a .160 average in six games. His defense wasn’t quite as good as it was in Kansas City, where he won four Gold Gloves.
The performance reflected on a smaller scale the difficulties Hosmer’s had since leaving KC after 2017 to sign his much-ballyhooed eight-year, $144 million contract with the Padres, a move easily attributable to the sheer magnitude of the money involved. At least one report suggested the Royals at one point offered Hosmer $147 million to stay, and another suggested Kansas City was in the same ballpark as San Diego but the Padres’ deal offered more money up front and an opt-out clause, but only Hosmer knows why he chose San Diego.
So, to speculate that Hosmer departed not entirely for the money, but in part because the KC Royals were losing their championship core, their contention window was closing for the foreseeable future, and a painful rebuild was imminent, would certainly be reasonable, especially because the prospects of winning immediately seemed much higher in San Diego than in Kansas City.
But things didn’t work out so well for Hosmer, or his new team, after his West Coast arrival. Hosmer, after clubbing 25 homers in each of his last two KC seasons, driving in 104 runs and then 94 in the same period, and hitting a career high .318 in his last Royal campaign, sunk to .253 with 18 homers and 69 RBIs in his first season as a Padre. And while his former team lost 104 games, the Padres dropped 96 to match Kansas City’s last place finish.
Things were better for Hosmer in 2019—although he hit .265, a mark the Padres really weren’t paying him for, his 22 home runs and 99 RBIs were much closer to what the they expected, But his new team lost 92 games and finished last again; the KC Royals lost 11 more but, courtesy of an even more awful Detroit team, escaped the cellar.
The promise of winning in San Diego, one Hosmer certainly considered when he decided to head West, was finally fulfilled in 2020, and Hosmer played his part, at least through the regular season. What difference he could have made in Kansas City is impossible to determine, although his presence would have stabilized the topsy-turvy first base situation.
Hosmer’s relatively small sample-size improvement this season is encouraging, but he just hasn’t been the same player in San Diego as he was with the Royals; why is anyone’s guess. Perhaps Hosmer hasn’t completely adjusted to the National League in general, or its pitchers specifically. Perhaps it’s the effect of playing in different ballparks with different players.
Or perhaps it’s the elephant in the room, that huge $144 million contract and the pressure that comes with it. Hosmer wouldn’t be the first of his baseball friends not to measure up to such mega-deals: Alex Gordon didn’t, Ian Kennedy didn’t, and Danny Duffy hasn’t.
Some probably say Hosmer would have remained Hosmer had he remained a Royal. Others probably believe the Royals and their fans should now feel fortunate Hosmer moved on, but such a sentiment, based as it is on sheer conjecture, is silly. Projecting how Hosmer would have performed in KC vis-a-vis San Diego is apples and oranges stuff; the underlying variables (different leagues, ballparks, pitchers and weather) render such an exercise folly.
What we know is this: so far, Hosmer hasn’t been quite the Hosmer we knew, although it looks like that may be changing (and that’s a good thing). He can opt out of his contract after the 2022 season; maybe by then Kansas City will be contending, or ready to seriously contend, and he’ll explore a reunion with the KC Royals. That’s unlikely, but not impossible, especially if Hosmer never recaptures the form he had as a Royal. After all, he grew up and had his greatest success with the organization. Maybe he can go home again.
Eric Hosmer has certainly suffered disappointments since leaving the KC Royals, and his Padres’ recent elimination from the NL playoffs was another.