Eric Hosmer Joins the Padres, Jolting a Quiet Free-Agent Market

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Eric Hosmer was a reigning World Series champion when he took the field at Petco Park in San Diego for the 2016 All-Star Game. Hosmer, who had helped lead the Kansas City Royals to the title, smacked an opposite-field home run in his first at-bat and a run-scoring single in his second. He was named the game’s most valuable player and seemed right at home.

Now, Hosmer will stay in San Diego for a while. He reached an eight-year, $144 million agreement to join the Padres late Saturday night, ending a sparkling seven-year run with the Royals by scoring the most lucrative free-agent deal of this off-season.

The market has been unusually slow for free agents, but Hosmer, a 28-year-old first baseman with four Gold Glove Awards, was widely believed to be the prize of this class. While he had to wait until spring training was underway — Padres position players officially reported on Sunday — he finally found the eight-year deal he was seeking.

The agreement, first reported by the San Diego Union-Tribune, was confirmed by two people in baseball who were granted anonymity because Hosmer must pass a physical for the contract to be official. Hosmer, who batted .318 with 25 homers last season, will earn $105 million over the first five years of the deal, and then could exercise an opt-out clause.

The total value of Hosmer’s contract eclipses the six-year, $126 million deal the Chicago Cubs agreed to last week with starter Yu Darvish. Center fielder Lorenzo Cain, Hosmer’s former teammate with the Royals, has the third-richest deal this winter, signing for five years and $80 million with the Milwaukee Brewers. 

Those deals would seem to undercut the suspicions of collusion that have been whispered among players and agents this winter. Early this month, Brodie Van Wagenen, a prominent agent, raged on Twitter about the market, writing that it “feels coordinated” and had raised “suspicion of institutional influence over the spending.” Van Wagenen also threatened a boycott of spring training, though the players union knocked down that idea.

Some free agents have been working out at a private camp set up by the union in Bradenton, Fla., but more and more have agreed to terms in recent days: Andrew Cashner (with Baltimore), Jason Vargas (Mets), Jaime Garcia (Toronto), Tony Watson (San Francisco), Eduardo Nunez (Boston) and now Hosmer.

Even so, there are plenty of unsigned players who could still help teams, including outfielder J.D. Martinez, third baseman Mike Moustakas, starter Jake Arrieta and closer Greg Holland. Those players are all represented by the agent Scott Boras, who also represents Hosmer. Boras often waits out teams to find the value he seeks, and Commissioner Rob Manfred needled him — though not by name — in a news conference on Thursday.

“Values are not dictated by big, thick, three-ring binders and rhetoric about who’s better than whom,” Manfred said. “They’re dictated by markets. That’s the system we negotiated.”

Boras has not commented publicly since then, though he has spoken out often against the current system, believing it discourages many teams from spending on veteran free agents.

In Hosmer’s case, though, Boras paired a relatively young player known for his athleticism and leadership with a team eager to shed its status as an also-ran.

The Padres have staggered through seven consecutive losing seasons and have not reached the playoffs since 2006. After flopping in 2015 despite several trades aimed at contending, they have built an encouraging farm system and have several young impact players on the roster.

Though they badly need starting pitching, the Padres have traded for the veteran infielders Chase Headley and Freddy Galvis this winter, indicating that they are ready for the next phase of their reconstruction under General Manager A.J. Preller. Hosmer’s deal, when finalized, will be the richest in the 50 seasons of the franchise.

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