Nick Pratto had to be feeling fine when the 2018 baseball season ended. The KC Royals’ first round draft pick just the year before, Pratto hit .280 with 14 home runs, 62 RBIs, and a .343 OBP at Class A Lexington.
Pratto’s cap, it seemed, was definitely in the ring to become Eric Hosmer’s long-term replacement at first base, especially after Lucas Duda failed in 2018 to convince anyone he could ever succeed Hosmer, who’d left for San Diego after the 2017 season.
But baseball can be cruel, and it was to Pratto in 2019. His average plummeted to .194, his homers to nine, his OBP to .278. Suddenly, he wasn’t the only prospect in Kansas City’s first base conversation. And in the face of the pandemic last season, he toiled to regain his form at the Royals’ Alternate Training Site last season instead of trying to reprove himself in real games.
It was there Pratto apparently rediscovered how to hit, a welcome development that spurred his hot 2021 spring and spectacular season so far. A .271/.404/.570 slash and 15 home runs in 61 games at Double-A Northwest Arkansas bought him a ticket to Triple-A Omaha, where in six games he’s homered twice, driven in seven runs, and is slashing .273/.407/.636.
His cap is once again in the first base ring. But someone could spoil things for Pratto.
Eric Hosmer. Yes, that Eric Hosmer.
Rumblings, courtesy of The Athletic and its writers Ken Rosenthal and Dennis Lin, began Monday morning that the Padres may be including his name in trade talks:
Hosmer’s history with the KC Royals, and his status as a Kauffman Stadium favorite, make speculation that San Diego and the Royals might make a deal inevitable. Twitter and other social media were alive with Hosmer-Kansas City chatter within hours.
And although Hosmer’s KC seasons are the best of his 11-year big league career—he won four Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger, made the All-Star team once, and slashed .284/.342/.439 with 127 homers in seven campaigns—General Manager Dayton Moore needs to say a polite “No” if the Padres call before the major league trade deadline expires Friday at 3 p.m. CDT.
Why shouldn’t the KC Royals enter into trade discussions about Eric Hosmer?
Presuming San Diego is seriously considering moving Hosmer, Kansas City needs to pass for two reasons: performance and contract. The first concept is easy to grasp, the second a bit more complicated.
That Hosmer is underperforming his $144 million contract is an understatement. He hit .253 in his first San Diego season, then .265 in 2019, and is batting .266 so far this year. He posted a .287 average last season, but in a short-sample 38 games. His San Diego OPS+ is 101. He hit 25 homers in 2019, eight last year, and is on pace for about 14 this season. Those aren’t numbers San Diego expected him to post.
To write Hosmer off at age 31 isn’t warranted, and it’s reasonable for the KC Royals to think he’ll improve. That doesn’t mean, though, that bringing him back is wise. It isn’t, and his mega-contract is the primary reason.
The Padres won the free agent battle for Hosmer with the $144 million deal they gave him as spring training was beginning in 2018, and under which they’ll have paid him $80 million (plus a $5 million signing bonus) when this, the fourth season of the eight-year contract, is over. The remaining $59 million is probably affordable for even the frugal Royals, but assuming Hosmer’s contract poses additional risk.
He can opt out of the deal after next season.
Assume for the moment Kansas City acquires Hosmer by 3 p.m. Friday, he finishes well, and has such an outstanding 2022 that other clubs suddenly want him with two years left on his contract, and to get him are willing to pay even more than the $13 million per year remaining on what will then be a three-year deal.
The Royals could lose him again. Hosmer can simply pull the plug on his contract, end it, and shop himself to the highest bidder, which almost assuredly wouldn’t be the Royals.
So, as much as KC Royals fans might love a reunion with Hosmer, bringing him back to Kansas City isn’t worth the risk. The parties could, of course, tear up his present deal and negotiate a new one guaranteeing a longer stay, but that doesn’t seem prudent for either player or club. Hosmer shouldn’t want to surrender the ticket to potentially greener pastures his opt-out provides, and the franchise shouldn’t commit long-term to a player whose performance has declined since he left town.
The Royals need to stick with what they have. Nick Pratto is looking pretty good. And he’s almost ready.
Having Eric Hosmer back could be fun. But if his San Diego Padres are shopping him, the KC Royals shouldn’t buy.