The following words are driven more by speculation than fact, more by conjecture than definitive truth, so feel free to end it here and watch that Chiefs fan jump onto the burning table again.
Go ahead, no offense taken.
Nearly everything about baseball this time of year is speculation and conjecture, so let me tell you that any hypothetical future story about how the Royals offseason ended with Eric Hosmer re-signing as a free agent would begin exactly like what just happened:
The Red Sox re-sign Mitch Moreland (for some reason), presumably taking themselves out of the bidding for Hosmer.
That leaves the Padres and Royals as the two clubs most closely linked, and the Padres would have to move a star who’s been good at first base back to the outfield where he’s been bad, and give up a second-round draft pick.
In summation: the most logical bidder gone, the same players available, pushing the market and the figurative game of musical chairs closer to the Royals’ favor.
A lot still needs to happen. The Padres have reportedly been deep in talks for Hosmer, and other destinations still make sense, including the Cardinals and Mets.
In addition, Hosmer would have to be OK signing away most of his prime years for a rebuilding project, signing to join friends Sal Perez and Danny Duffy as this generation’s George Brett and Frank White. The Royals would need to be OK giving (by far) the biggest contract in club history at a time they do not expect to contend for championships.
That’s a lot of moving parts. Still.
But in the big picture, Royals officials have to consider the possibility of signing Hosmer much more realistic now than when the offseason began.
At that point, one rival evaluator guessed Hosmer would sign for six years and $140 million. Fanrag’s Jon Heyman, as plugged in as anyone, does an annual column in which he and an industry insider guess contracts: he had seven years and $160 million; the insider had seven years and $165 million.
Those numbers and even more remain possible, but the key to any negotiation is leverage. Whoever bids for Hosmer now knows they have at least one fewer big-money franchise to compete with.
The Royals would need to rethink some things, too. Signing Hosmer would not change their priority about rebuilding the farm system, but it would change their expenses for a heavily flawed team “competing” in an American League stacked with the Yankees (Stanton and Judge), Red Sox (AL East champs with money to spend), Indians (22 games better than the Royals last year), Twins (younger and five games better than the Royals last year), Astros (world champs and young) and Angels (Ohtani-Trout-Simmons-Cozart-Kinsler).
General manager Dayton Moore has said he’d like to get the payroll down to $110 million next year, which would not only mean not signing Hosmer or any other major free agent, it would also almost certainly require shedding contracts with trades.
The Royals already have $102 million committed to 10 players. Any Hosmer contract would likely push that to $120 million or more for 11 players, this for a team that won just 80 games last season with Hosmer better than ever.
Baseball operations could justify the contract by promoting Hosmer’s leadership, and that he would not be blocking a prospect at first base. But David Glass isn’t going to be excited about giving a nine-figure contract to a swag coach, particularly not with claims of $60 million to $65 million losses over the last two years.
Most importantly, though, Hosmer is the one who will make the final decision. None of this works unless he’s on board. Most free agents look for the most money in a place they can win.
This would mean getting neither.
All of this is complicated, in other words, but the winds are blowing in a way that makes Hosmer and the Royals renewing their vows more likely (or perhaps less unlikely). That becomes increasingly true with time.
The Royals can at least make this interesting with some creativity. What if they offer six years and $125 million, but include a player opt-out after two or three? Make sure their offer is at least competitive with the biggest number, but give Hosmer the power of an opt-out and no-trade clause?
Opt-outs significantly swing the value of a contract to the player, and the Royals had long been against them but included one with Ian Kennedy (who, along with Hosmer, is represented by agent Scott Boras).
The Royals could promote it as good faith for fans to keep a popular star, and as an example for the next wave. Hosmer is still just 28, so the opt-out would give him one more shot at a big contract if he wasn’t pleased with the organization’s direction.
Would he say no?
Maybe. But the Royals can make this more difficult on him than they thought even a few weeks ago.