San Diego Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer is in the fifth year of his tenure with the team, and his time in Southern California has been mostly underwhelming. The news of his signing felt like a shot in the arm for the Padres fanbase, which hadn’t watched a legitimate star play baseball in their team’s uniform since Trevor Hoffman. Before Hoffman, there was Tony Gwynn. Preceding Gwynn, there was Randy Jones. Before Jones, there was… Nate Colbert? A glance at the franchise’s mostly disappointing history suggests that not many star-caliber baseball players have decided to call San Diego home.
A Rugged Start
Hosmer turned in negative WAR seasons (-0.5 in 2018 and -0.7 in 2019) in his first two seasons. His wRC+ was 95 and 92, respectively, in those seasons. In other words, he performed below replacement level as a batter. This, from an athlete being paid $20 million per year for five seasons, with an expectation to replicate his presence and production with the Kansas City Royals.
At the time of his signing, Hosmer was believed to be a key veteran presence in a clubhouse full of young prospects. Padres general manager AJ Preller had already completed the overhaul of his farm system and major league team, which began after the 2015 season. The only other players on the 40-man roster in 2018 with significant MLB experience included Clayton Richard and Chase Headley. Richard was a career journeyman tasked with leading a rotation of young pitchers trying to find their footings in the bigs. Headley was designated for assignment before the All-Star break.
Of the previous four years, Hosmer’s best came during the shortened 2020 season. He played in 38 games of that 60-game season, hitting .287/.333/.517/.850 with a 128 wRC+. In 2021, his power regressed (.269/.337/.395/.732), but he got on base at the same rate. Offensively in 2021, Hosmer’s biggest downfall was the ground ball. He hit the ball on the ground at a 30 percent higher rate (130 ground ball rate-plus) and put the ball on the ground more than any other major league player at his position.
Hosmer Making a Statement in 2022
That hasn’t been the case in 2022–so far. Through the month of April (23 games), Hosmer is off to a remarkable start. He leads all National League first basemen in wRC+ (200), and is hitting .382/.447/.579/1.026. Looking further, his walk rate (10.6 percent) is on pace for a career-high, and his strikeout rate (14.1 percent) is a career-low. Other metrics are currently sitting above expected numbers.
It’s too early to say that Hosmer is looking at a career year. The Padres have played just 23 games of a 162-game season. They currently have a 15-8 record, sitting in a virtual tie with the Los Angeles Dodgers (14-7) atop the National League West.
Could it be that Hosmer is treating 2022 as a “prove it” year? His contract allows for the option to leave the team after the season and seek a new contract elsewhere. A career year would give him some leverage in negotiations, albeit 2023 will be his age 33 season. Perhaps he is trying to prove something to the front office, that he was worth the price of the contract when he signed. He was the subject of trade rumors last season, and again before the start of the current year.
Hosmer’s production thus far has contributed to his team keeping up with their division nemesis up Interstate-5. He and Padres third baseman Manny Machado (199 wRC+) are sitting high above the rest of the National League. Keep in mind that continuing to perform at a career rate would only boost his trade value, if nothing else. Teams showed interest last year and before Spring Training, but reportedly weren’t ready to agree at decision time. The flip side is that Hosmer remains with the team beyond July, when the Padres are presumably in the postseason hunt. Either way, a season with vast improvement could only be a good situation for the Padres.
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Eric Hosmer, Trevor Hoffman, Tony Gwynn, Randy Jones, Nate Colbert, Clayton Richard, Chase Headley, Manny Machado