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How Eric Hosmer became San Diego’s odd man out

With the trade deadline looming, the Padres may attach prospects in a deal to unload Hosmer’s contract.

MLB: Colorado Rockies at San Diego Padres Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

In February of 2018, the San Diego Padres signed Eric Hosmer to what was, at the time, the largest contract in franchise history. To an extent, you could understand the allure of someone like Hosmer, who was coming off of the best year of his career in 2017 and had helped the Kansas City Royals to a long-awaited title of their own just two years prior.

But in the fourth season of the eight-year, $144 million deal—and having seen a pair of contracts handed out by the Padres (Manny Machado and Fernando Tatis, Jr.) that dwarfed his own—it has entered the realm of possibility that Hosmer is already playing in his final days with the franchise.

To kick off the week of Major League Baseball’s trade deadline, the Padres made yet another marquee move in acquiring Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier. While the move is yet another transaction that signals San Diego’s very real intention of capturing their first title in franchise history, it also has the ability to produce other ramifications within the current roster structure; most notable among them is Hosmer.

The argument is already in the airspace that Hosmer probably should have never been signed to that contract. His 2017 featured a slash of .318/.385/.498/.882 and a wRC+ of 135. It easily eclipsed anything he had turned in to that point with Kansas City. But given his general lack of power at a power position—he did produce back-to-back 25 homer seasons in 2016 and 2017, but also had ISO figures of just .167 and .179 in those years, respectively—and extremely poor defensive metrics (whatever the Gold Gloves might try to indicate), the contract was ultimately more about getting a higher profile name than anything else. At least in hindsight.

The acquisition of Frazier essentially gives the Padres a second baseman. Which they already had in Jake Cronenworth. However, even though Frazier does have experience in the outfield corners, the assumption immediately following the deal was that Cronenworth would shift to first, Frazier would come in at second, and Hosmer would hit the pine. This would allow the Padres to continue deploying a corner outfield that features on-base machine Tommy Pham in left and the streaky, but probably more impactful, Wil Myers in right (as well as the odd appearance by Jurickson Profar).

But since teams aren’t necessarily eager to plant a first baseman hauling in an AAV of $18 million on their bench, the more recent speculation has shifted to a potential trade of Hosmer. Given that the Padres’ myriad of blockbuster trades has pushed them right up against the luxury tax threshold (something they have already nonetheless noted they’re willing to surpass), a move of Hosmer would provide them some relief financially. Plus, the allure of grabbing a couple of notable prospects has to be at least somewhat intriguing for a rebuilding club with a vacancy at the position and plenty of financial wiggle room.

Regardless of what transpires there, the evolution of Hosmer in San Diego has been an interesting one. After all, you have to wonder how a player that was billed as a franchise cornerstone barely two-and-a-half years ago suddenly finds himself on the outs right as the contention window is blasted open.

So how did Hosmer get to this point? Well, his own performance for one. His first year with San Diego saw a wRC+ of 91, a significant dip in his already modest ISO numbers (.145), and a groundball rate up to around 60 percent. In 2019, he posted a wRC+ of just 91 and struck out at the highest rate of his career (24.4 percent). This, while walking at the lowest (6.0) and reaching base at just a .310 clip. The 2020 sprint saw him on the upswing, with a 127 wRC+, a .231 ISO, and a significant reduction in his strikeout numbers (17.9).

The regression back to those two previous seasons has been real, though. Hosmer again finds himself on the negative side of wRC+, with a Hard% that has fallen about eight percent from 2020, and a paltry ISO of just .114. The defense also continues to be below average. None of it is what you want for a first baseman on a contending club.

However, the injection of new blood onto the Padres’ roster also bears a lot of the responsibility for Hosmer potentially finding a new home before the weekend. When Hosmer arrived, San Diego’s 2018 roster featured the likes of Austin Hedges, Freddy Galvis, Christian Villanueva, Manuel Margot, Franmil Reyes, and Hunter Renfroe. Some of those players have been able to carve out niche roles on other squads, but it’s a very far cry from where they find themselves here in 2021.

The rise of Jake Cronenworth is one very large factor in all of this. He’s an immensely talented contact hitter with occasional power who plays very good defense. In virtually every way, he’s an upgrade. With the Machado contract, Tatis at short, and the new acquisition of Frazier, he’s a must in the lineup. Then, you add in Jurickson Profar and Ha-Seong Kim, both of which can play all over the infield, as well as Victor Caratini, who can handle first base for a spell. Austin Nola, when healthy, also has some versatility of his own from behind the plate. And there isn’t a ton of room in the outfield for any of them with Pham reaching base at a top 25 rate and Trent Grisham providing top tier defense.

Either way, the Padres have gone out of their way to build one of the best lineups in baseball. It’s a versatile one, and virtually everyone on the roster is capable of providing something that Hosmer cannot: power, defense, on-base skills, etc.

It’s not a lock that Hosmer plays his way out of town before Friday’s trade deadline. His contract certainly complicates matters. But the ultimate point is this: the Padres’ roster is far different from the one that any of us likely imagined when Hosmer signed that contract back in 2018. Cronenworth’s own performance pushed him out, but the Dads have just been so good about acquiring talent for their lineup. There just isn’t room for him anymore.

And as much as it would be nice to be optimistic about Hosmer carving out a bench role and appearing for the occasional stint as an impact pinch hitter, he’s posted an average of just .050 in 24 plate appearances in that role. It’s a disappointing turn for a player that marked the newest phase of the Padres, but there are just too many factors that have worked to Hosmer’s detriment (and to the franchise’s benefit).

In any case, we’ll likely know by the end of the week what the next step might be for Eric Hosmer and the San Diego Padres.

Randy Holt is a contributing writer for Beyond the Box Score. You can follow him on Twitter @RandyHolt42.