Eric Hosmer has been a good player— a very good player, in fact — for the Kansas City Royals since breaking into their starting lineup in 2011.
But now he’s becoming a great player.
Hosmer is a strapping 6-4 with Hollywood good looks and a swing that produces some of the hardest-hit balls in baseball. Yet, he’s hit 20 homers only once in his career, though he’s a lock to reach that mark this year.
As good as Hosmer has been — he’s also perhaps the best-fielding first baseman in the game and can run like a deer — Royals fans have always been left wanting for more. They see this guy with the mighty swing and wonder why he hasn’t ever come close to challenging Steve Balboni’s team home run record of 36, which could fall to Mike Moustakas this year if he stays on his current pace.
But Hosmer, at age 27, is well on his way to the best season of his career. On Wednesday he produced the greatest game of his life by going 5 for 6 with five runs scored and six RBIs. He’s now at .319 for the season with 16 homers and 54 RBIs in exactly 100 games. He’s also saved scads of runs with his nifty glove work.
This is great news for Royals fans. It’s also bad news.
Hosmer is in his walk year as he can test the free-agent market this offseason, which he’ll certainly do. He surely wants to see what he’s worth on the open market and it’s going to be a number with a lot of zeroes attached.
Hosmer, the face of the franchise with apologies to Salvy Perez, has the notorious Scott Boras for an agent. Boras is known for squeezing owners for every last nickel and with the resume Hosmer is compiling this year, the Royals have to be in full panic mode.
My guess is the first figure will be something like id="mce_marker"00 million for 5 years. Boras will certainly point to Hosmer’s age. In baseball circles, it’s genuinely thought that a player’s peak years are from 27 to 32 and Hosmer will be 28 in October.
Kansas City, one of the smallest-market teams in baseball, is already breaking the bank. It has pushed beyond its limit and needs another World Series run to replenish the payroll. The Alex Gordon contract is an albatross and you have to remember the Royals also have decisions to make on Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Jason Vargas and Alcides Escobar.
Royals fans know this is the last hurrah for the current group. Even if owner David Glass would throw his Wal-Mart millions at Hosmer and keep him, there’s a good chance at least three others could go. I read one account where the Royals are already preparing for 2018 without Cain, Vargas and Escobar, as they’d like to keep Moustakas. The thought is that Gordon could move to center next year (with Jorge Soler in left) and Raul Mondesi Jr. would slide into Escobar’s spot as despite his failures so far at the Major League level they believe he’s going to be an All-Star.
On the surface, Hosmer gives every indication he loves being a Royal. He’s the most popular player along with Perez and always is fan friendly. He plays with a group of guys he went through the minor leagues with and the Royals probably have more of a family atmosphere on their team than any club in baseball. They are definitely a tight-knit bunch.
But Hosmer may also believe he’s given the Royals all he has and maybe it’s time to explore the great, big world out there. Let’s face it, if Hosmer stays it’s because of his loyalty to his teammates and the fans, because there’s a lot of clubs who will be in position to offer a lot more than what the Royals can. They just don’t have the resources to reward all their players what they deserve.
It’s hard to imagine the Royals next year without Hosmer. But baseball is a business and no matter how many millions Hosmer has made, he knows his next contract will set himself up for life.
And that life may not include the Royals next year.