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Okay, Seriously, Let’s Really Consider Eric Hosmer

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In which the author spends an inordinate amount of energy arguing for an option so many seem so quick to dismiss.

Arizona Diamondbacks v Kansas City Royals Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Rumours, ladies and gentlemen, are flying. Or, well, maybe not flying, exactly; this offseason is maybe a little too slow overall for rumours to generally be flying. Swirling, maybe; swirling is a good verb.

Rumours, ladies and gentlemen, are swirling. Swirling like discarded food wrappers in a vacant lot, flipped this way and that in desultory little circles by the wind. Yes, that seems apropos of this particular offseason.

So we have sad, unwanted little rumours flopping and scuttling about, and many of those rumours concern our own St. Louis Cardinals. Which, hey, that’s fun, right? Hearing people talk about your team a bunch is better than the alternative, generally speaking; it’s certainly better than rooting for some team that’s basically never in the conversation, because they aren’t worth paying attention to. I mean, like, think how much it would suck to be a fan of, say, the Padres, whose name is basically never brought up in—

Oh, wait. Hmm. Okay, moving on....

Anyway, lots of rumours, lots about the Cardinals. Not surprising for a club predicted from the outset to be one of the biggest movers and shakers, even if the reality has maybe fallen a touch short of the frenzy of activity I think some of us though was at least possible, if not probable.

And here’s the thing: some of the rumours surrounding El Birdos make perfect sense. The Cards are looking for a closer, you say? Well that’s not at all shocking, given that the bullpen, even if it is probably not as dire as a chunk of the fanbase seems to think (which has been a theme this offseason, to an exhausting degree), was certainly one of the chief culprits last season in explaining the Redbirds’ shortfall of wins relative to true-talent metrics. So yeah, not a stretch to think they might see the ‘pen as a place to invest; the loss of Trevor Rosenthal only exacerbates the situation.

Other rumours, however, are a little less easy to swallow. Maybe they seem a little far-fetched. Or maybe a particular rumour clearly seems out of character for this franchise that’s only interested in putting a mediocre product on the field to keep the turnstiles spinning and has no real plans to win, and when will these sheeple wake up, amiright? Or maybe a given rumour just, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of sense.

Such is the case with the rumour, recently put around by Jon Paul Morosi of MLB.com, that the Cardinals are ‘in pursuit’ — whatever that might mean — of Eric Hosmer. Now, how legitimate the rumour is is really anyone’s guess; I’m sure Morosi is reporting what he’s heard, but I think we all understand that a whole lot of the rumours that are disseminated by writers come, one way or another, from the camp of the player being discussed. It doesn’t even have to be a Jon Heyman/Scott Boras situation, where the writer has long been rumoured to be a conduit for agent-created propaganda; agents can leak things just as easily as can teams, and we’ve seen plenty of negotiating done through the media over the years. (I’m also not saying there’s anything wrong with that, either. Just that we have to be aware that sometimes rumours come from sources with agendas of their own.)

On the surface, the idea of the Cardinals pursuing Eric Hosmer seems slightly strange. No stranger than the aforementioned Padres pursuing him seems, but still strange. After all, the Redbirds have a first baseman, and while he is pretty shockingly underrated by the sort of fan who was probably nodding along with my sheeple comment earlier, Matt Carpenter remains one of the best hitters on the team. Now, the club could decide to shift Carp back to third base, yes, but doing so would force Jedd Gyorko into lesser playing time, and whatever gains you might reap from Carpenter over Gyorko offensively, you’re giving back a lot of it — if not all — with the glove. So on the surface, Hosmer seems to be a bad fit for the Cardinals.

However, if we look a bit deeper, Hosmer...still seems like a bad fit. I mean, seriously, what kind of upgrade could he really be over Matt Carpenter? Carpenter’s 131 career wRC+ is miles better than that of Hosmer (111). Hosmer is projected for a 122 wRC+ in 2018 — which seems optimistic, by the way, but sure, okay — while Carp is crystal balled at 124. Steamer has Hosmer at 2.6 wins above replacement in 2018, and Carpenter at 2.8. Now, there’s been some discussion here recently about the distribution of outcomes on Hosmer’s projections, and maybe he’s legitimately a higher-variance player than Carpenter, which I suppose could, theoretically, be a boon for a club trying to add ceiling, but the downside in that case is also greater, so I’m not sure if I buy that argument either. The fact is, it’s very unlikely that Eric Hosmer is a substantial upgrade over Matt Carpenter, either through simply replacing him, or bumping him to third and pushing Jedd Gyorko into super utility duty.

So...enough said, right? I mean, what else should we consider? I think I’ve said all that needs to be said, and it didn’t even take me 900 words. Time to wrap this thing up, methinks.

Oh, come on. You know me better than that, right?

If you’re asking me if I think the Cardinals should be ‘pursuing’ Eric Hosmer, then the answer is a pretty simple no. I absolutely think they should keep bugging the Blue Jays over and over and over until they decide to trade Josh Donaldson just to shut the Cardinals up, but Hosmer? I just don’t see the efficacy.

However, maybe we’ve been too quick to toss the Hosmer idea out. Maybe the rumours really are just agent propaganda, but what if they aren’t? Is there some reason the Cardinals actually would be interested in Eric Hosmer? So in the spirit of properly analysing and and all avenues to upgrading the Cardinals — which I assume is what they themselves are doing — let’s really see if there’s something there in this scenario.

I believe I’ve come up with six arguments in favour of signing Hosmer. Let’s go through and see if there’s any substance to any of them, shall we?

#1: He’s Young

This one I’m starting off with because it’s really the only one of these arguments I’ve come up with that I don’t think is all that arguable. Eric Hosmer is, in fact, still a relatively young player. He will play all of 2018 at 28 years old. He is almost four full years younger than Matt Carpenter. It is an undeniable fact, and an undeniable plus, that Eric Hosmer is younger than most players you can sign in free agency. Say what you wish about aging curves these days stating players never get better, only worse, or whatever else, but the fact is that Eric Hosmer likely has at least a few more years before age-related decline really starts to kick in.

Now, admittedly, the age is only a big deal if you think Hosmer is good to begin with; the fact he’s produced at replacement level multiple times in his career could certainly lead a reasonable person to believe he simply isn’t a good bet to be worth a contract of any substantive size. But if he’s not worth the deal he gets, age almost certainly won’t be the culprit dragging him down.

#2: He’s a Leader

Oof. Now this one feels thorny. Personally, I always try to avoid too much talk of leadership and clubhouse culture, because if I’m not an atheist, it’s only because Thomas Huxley was so kind as to give us the term agnostic, almost certainly for the express purpose of talking about baseball. (Catcher intangibles, anyone?)

However, if one were so inclined as to wish to look into the psychological workings of a baseball clubhouse, rather than tangible factors only, one might conclude Eric Hosmer could bring some value in this way. Now, firstly, do we know that Eric Hosmer is a good leader, or good clubhouse presence, or whatever other vague term of art one wishes to use? No, we do not. However, we do know that his reputation points toward near-universal respect and acclaim from his peers. He is often lauded for being one of the prime tone-setters in the Royal clubhouse over the past handful of years. And, whether we wish to ascribe great value or not, I think it is impossible to argue that a coherent, positive workplace is not a more desirable environment in which to cultivate talent. The question, of course, is how much, to which I believe we must inevitably answer, finally, “I do not know.”

But let us take the words of those who have been there, and believe that Hosmer is a positive force off the field in a leadership role. The second question then becomes: do the Cardinals have a need of such a leader?

And to that query, I would answer that I...could see there being a leadership void in the current clubhouse. I’m not certain there is, but I could see that being the case. This Cardinal team has many of the same sort of personality on it; quiet, businesslike, and serious are sort of the hallmarks of this era of Redbird baseball. Matt Carpenter is a magnificent leader by example, I believe, but his personality doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of rah in it, much less rah rah. Yadier Molina has long been the guy pointed to in the Cardinal clubhouse in terms of setting a tone, but Yadi is a catcher, and catchers always have one foot in the pitching world, and one in the positional world. Molina is a team leader, certainly, but he’s also the guy worrying about the pitching gameplan. Perhaps there should be another voice speaking to the hitters. Tommy Pham is perhaps my favourite player on this current club, but I don’t believe he’d be a great team leader. Again, perhaps leading by example, but Pham seems almost too focused on his mission in the game to be able to relate to everyone.

Dexter Fowler came to the Cardinals with a bunch of clubhouse hype, and we heard that he was actually playing music — music! — during spring training, but most of that talk faded in the reality of the buttoned-uppedness of a Mike Matheny clubhouse. Also — and this is no knock on Dexter — he had a tough time staying on the field last year. It’s difficult to lead the troops from the bench, and Fowler unfortunately had a rough go of it last year healthwise.

I could see the Cardinals looking at their culture and personalities and believing they could use a rallying point in the clubhouse. Again, I don’t know whether I agree, or how much value to assign such an idea if I did agree, but when I look at this current Cards team, I’d be lying if I said I don’t see how this collection of players might need a center.

#3: He’s a Better Defender than the Numbers Say

Okay, so reason number one seemed fine. Reason number two seemed vague and kind of shaky, but we’re talking intangibles, so of course it’s going to feel that way. Now we come to reason number three, and I find myself struggling, badly, to justify it to myself.

Here’s the theory: Eric Hosmer is, in fact, a really good defensive first baseman, despite literally all of the evidence to the contrary.

Hosmer has won four gold gloves as a first baseman, which would suggest he is, in fact, an excellent defender, right? Well, here’s the thing about that: basically every defensive metric we have says otherwise. They say Hosmer is somewhere between average and terrible, in spite of the fact that subjective praise for him continues to pour in from all over.

I’m actually willing to overlook Hosmer’s first couple years in the league; he was 21, 22 years old and still trying to get his feet wet. Yes, he put up incredibly bad numbers defensively in 2011 and ‘12, but let’s just go from 2013 on, when he looks to have matured into a better overall player. (Look, I’m being generous, okay?)

Beginning in 2013, these are Eric Hosmer’s defensive ratings by DRS: 3,3,1,-6,-7. So a little above average for a couple years, then bad the last two.

The same years, by plus/minus: 3,-1,-2,-11,-7. So less good by this measure overall, but a similar trend line. Roughly average from ‘13 to 2015, then bad the last two years.

The same years again, this time by UZR/150: 2.2,-0.4,1.0,-6.1,-0.4. Now here we have an interesting disagreement; UZR plots a similar flattish line for three years, then drops badly in 2016, but actually rebounds back up this past season. Not to where Hosmer would be considered good, mind you, but not as bad as the other two measuring systems see him.

Now, obviously, one-year defensive numbers are notoriously unreliable, but this is a five year sample we’re dealing with, and those five years say that Eric Hosmer is, at best, a slightly above average defender, probably worse than that, possibly significantly worse than that, and appears to be trending in the wrong direction.

It’s worth noting that none of those seasons consist of flukish small samples; Hosmer has played over 1300 innings at first in each of those five seasons, other than 2014, when he was limited to 1121, which is still over 130 games’ worth of playing time.

The argument in favour of Hosmer goes something like this: Eric Hosmer is perhaps the preeminent scooper of bad throws in baseball, and actually makes all your other infielders better. Morosi makes this argument in the video accompanying the piece I referenced back at the beginning of this, and I’ve heard that argument from other people as well. The scooping is what always comes up with Hosmer.

I will say this: every first baseman in baseball appears pretty good at scooping throws in the dirt, to the point I feel like this is probably an overblown difference. But....I will admit also that Hosmer a) is very error-resistant (his range numbers are generally bad, but he makes almost no mistakes), and b) really does appear to be somewhat exceptional in terms of digging throws out of the dirt, or corralling wayward throws laterally by dint of his longer than average wingspan. Now, I will further admit that I don’t have a great grasp on how well defensive metrics separate out the throw-catching part of the job for first basemen, compared to other positions around the infield.

Personally, I doubt very much the effect is a huge one; I certainly can’t imagine we’re talking about a value anywhere near pitch framing for catchers. But, I will say I believe it’s possible that there is an aspect of first base defense we’re not measuring well yet. The errors Hosmer isn’t making would generally go to his other infielders, in the form of throwing errors, so perhaps that value is hidden somehow because we don’t know how to measure it properly. I also don’t know how one would go about trying to determine that; simply eyeballing whether or not Royals infielders make few throwing errors invites a whole other host of problems.

So here, in the end, is my verdict on the Hosmer defensive debate: Eric Hosmer, by all the best measures we have, is not a good defender. However, the one area in which observers consistently seem to agree he is exceptional is also the one area where I could see something being missed when it comes to first basemen specifically. Take from all that what you will; it’s probably a pretty good Rorschach test for how one feels about Eric Hosmer, if nothing else.

Oh, and while I was writing that section just now, I actually came up with a sixth argument in favour of Hosmer, which I will now shoehorn in here. It’s another one that’s actually pretty tough to argue against, I think.

#4: He’s Durable

Hosmer entered the league in 2011, long enough after the beginning of the season that the Royals maintained that extra year of club control, and played in 128 games. In 2014, he missed time in August with a fractured hand that appeared to happen initially when he was hit by Jon Lester with a pitch. He ended up playing in 131 games that season. In the other five years of his career, his games played totals are as follows: 152, 159, 158, 158, 162. He’s surpassed 600 plate appearances four of seven years, and the only season in which he missed 550 PAs was that 2014 campaign, when he ended up with...548.

Eric Hosmer, for whatever else one might say about him, takes the field every day, rain or shine. Now, maybe one thinks he might actually be better with a little more time off, but he’s always willing to answer the bell, and there’s something to be said for that.

#5: He Still has Untapped Offensive Upside

Here’s where we really begin to step into the realm of the speculative. Well, mostly speculative, anyway.

Okay, so to begin with, let’s talk about the things Eric Hosmer is very good at offensively. First, he’s good at making contact. The MLB average strikeout rate in 2017 was close to 21%, while Hosmer’s K rate was just 15.5%. Nor was that a huge deviation from his career numbers; Hosmer has a career strikeout rate of 16.3%, and his highest-ever number was 19.8%, coming in his semi-disastrous 2016 season.

Second, while Hosmer has never been a walk machine a la Joey Votto or Matt Carpenter, he posted the best walk rate of his career in 2017, at 9.8%. Interestingly, Steamer projects him for that same number in 2018, which I assume has something to do with aging curves reflecting hitters becoming more patient as they age. Regardless of why, I think there’s a decent chance Eric Hosmer in 2018 could walk around 10% of the time, and maintain a strikeout rate in the 15-17% range. And that’s a recipe for getting on base at a very solid clip.

So that’s the real-world stuff. Now let’s get into the speculative.

Eric Hosmer is, perhaps more than any other player in baseball, the hitter whose name most comes up associated with the idea of a launch angle offensive makeover. Christian Yelich in Miami comes up a lot, as does Brandon Belt in San Francisco, or sometimes Yandy Diaz, the young third base prospect in Cleveland. But of them all, Eric Hosmer is the guy who constantly comes up when the conversation turns to swing remakes aimed at getting the ball into the air.

And it makes sense, really; Hosmer makes consistent hard contact with the ball, doesn’t swing and miss a ton, and pounds the ball into the ground far, far, far more than you want to see. He’s not an absolute elite-level exit velocity guy; he ranks #40 in terms of average exit velocity if we set the batted-ball minimum to 150, in order to weed out part-time players and the like. That’s not crazy high, but he’s surrounded by guys like Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Ryan Braun, Daniel Murphy, and Freddie Freeman. That’s pretty good company.

Now for the bad news: Hosmer hit the ball on the ground a ghastly 55.6% of the time in 2017. That’s actually not even as bad as his 2016 figure; that even-more-ghastly 58.9% is almost hard to look at. Eric Hosmer has a serious problem with ground balls.

So the thought goes, of course: well, why doesn’t he just alter his swing to hit the ball in the air? He’d be awesome, then! And really, if one were combing through baseball players, looking for the kind of contact-for-power, fly-ball-for-grounder trade candidate, Eric Hosmer is basically exactly what you’re looking for. The profile is remarkably similar to Jose Martinez, so yeah, that’s basically the exact kind of player for whom the launch angle revolution would seem to offer grand upside.

Well, there are two problems with that, both of which people on the stay away from Hosmer side of the debate very quickly, and very accurately, point out. For one thing, Hosmer doesn’t actually hit the ball quite as hard when he does hit it in the air; he’s #40 on the overall EV leaderboard, but in terms of exit velocity on fly balls and line drives, he checks in at #75. (Still 150 min. batted-ball events.) Then again, Mike Trout, greatest player in the world, is only #67 on the list, at 94.3 mph LD/FB exit velocity, compared to Hosmer’s 94.1, so I think we can safely say that if there is a threshold over which a player must jump to be an effective hitter, Hosmer likely clears it by this measure.

What Hosmer really does that stands out is hit his ground balls extremely hard. He’s #40 overall, #75 in line drives and fly balls, and checks in at eleven in terms of ground ball exit velocity. He’s in a big clump of guys, all essentially tied at 87.6 mph, that includes Christian Yelich and...Jose Martinez, among others. Which is interesting. Pablo Sandoval is also in that group, which is less interesting.

The other thing the no on Hosmer camp always goes for in the launch angle debate is this: he has not shown any ability to make that adjustment so far, has not adapted his game whatsoever to this changing environment, and the fact he has not suggests he probably just can’t. He only makes unusually hard contact on grounders, and has shown no ability to change his swing, and ultimately his game. No team should bet on him suddenly making this jump offensively, when he appears unable to make the shift to a different approach.

Which, yes, is true. But — and this is important — there’s one very important detail missing. We don’t know if he was trying.

By that I mean this: it’s probably not fair to categorise a player as unable to make an adjustment if we don’t know whether or not he’s ever attempted said adjustment.

Of all the organisations in major league baseball these days, the Kansas City Royals might be the greatest black box of them all, at least in terms of their organisational approach and philosophy. The vast majority of front offices think in remarkably similar ways, but the Royals have been zigging while the rest of the game zagged for a decent while now. They built a contact, defense, and speed-based team in an era of power hitting and huge strikeout totals. They seem utterly resistant to many trends affecting the game these days, still hitting Alcides Escobar leadoff and things like that. The Royals just don’t do things the way most other organisations do, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to conclude that there’s a decent chance Eric Hosmer has continued to hit tons of hard grounders to date because his team was happy with that approach, and no one ever suggested he do anything else.

Now, to be fair, a club doesn’t have to go to the player and make a suggestion for the player to be open to making changes to hopefully improve his game. But if the team for which you play basically tells you to go out and do exactly what you’re doing every day from here to the end of time, embarking on a somewhat-risky swing rebuild to change your offensive profile just might not be on the agenda.

The bad news here is that, so far as I can tell, there’s absolutely no indication Hosmer has ever tried to hit the ball in the air, no indication he has resisted the idea of hitting the ball in the air, no indication the Royals ever asked him to hit the ball in the air, or any indication they told him not to change anything. We just don’t have any real details, it doesn’t seem.

That does not, of course, mean we should assume Hosmer could make the change if only he wanted to; it just means I don’t think we should conclude he can’t, since we don’t really know if he’s ever tried. I would think that, if a team like, say, the Cardinals were to acquire Hosmer, they would probably push him to try and join the fly ball crowd. Jose Martinez has done so, Matt Carpenter has done so. Jedd Gyorko has, to a certain extent, as well. (With Gyorko it’s less obvious, but his pull percentage and fly ball percentage have both gone up by modest amounts since joining the Cardinals, suggesting a move toward the pulled-fly-ball-for-power camp, even if it’s a more gentle shift.)

And what about the fact Hosmer hits the ball really hard on the ground, but only kind of hard in the air? Well, if we’re moving swing planes around, the angles of incidence are going to be affected, so I’m not sure that argument is as persuasive as it might seem on the surface.

But in the end, this all comes down to speculation. Hosmer’s plate discipline was better than ever in 2017, he hit for the most power of his career (.179 ISO), and he ended up with a line 35% better than the league average hitter. Those are all positives. On the negative side, he was still hugely dependent on an unsustainably high BABIP of .351 to get there, and while there’s reason to believe he could, perhaps, shift his contact profile toward a higher launch angle, do you really want to be the team betting seven years and $150 million plus on it?

#6: He is Death to Right-handed Pitching

And here, finally, is maybe my favourite aspect of Hosmer as a signing candidate for the Cardinals specifically. Which, yes, could also be construed as a negative for the faint praise with which I am damning him, but hear me out, alright?

Eric Hosmer has a fairly strong career split by pitcher handedness, which isn’t really shocking. Most lefties do, after all. For his career, Hosmer is a 123 wRC+ batter against righties, versus just an 87 wRC+ against portsiders. Over the last three seasons, he’s been even better against right-handers, posting a 136 wRC+ against them. It’s a .306/.383/.496 line, with a 10.6% walk rate. In 2017, he absolutely murdered righties to the tune of a .335/.410/.528 line, an 11.4% walk rate, 16.6% strikeout rate, and a 151 wRC+. Now, to be fair, he was also roughly league average against lefties, with a 99 wRC+ (he struck out just 13% of the time against same-handed hurlers, suggesting he deliberately shortens up to try and make contact against them), so it’s not as if he needs a hard platoon, really.

So here’s the thing about Hosmer: he’s a left-handed hitter, which helps to balance out the Cardinals’ predominantly right-handed lineup, but more importantly, it could allow them to run essentially a double platoon, at first and third base, which could end up putting up ridiculous production numbers.

You see, Matt Carpenter for his career is a very good hitter against both left- and right-handed pitchers. (Career 112 wRC+ against lefties, 139 against righties.) Even though those are both awesome numbers, there is still a substantial split there. In 2017, it was worse for Carp, as he still battered righties from pillar to post for a 134 wRC+ (eerily consistent), but struggled against left-handed pitching to the tune of an 85 wRC+. Now, why that would be I don’t know, but perhaps the sore shoulder for Carpenter made him less confident in his bat speed and more vulnerable to cheating on velocity or bailing out. I don’t really know, but it’s a thing. In 2016 he still had a pretty big split, going 120 vs LHP/144 vs RHP, but obviously those are both great numbers.

So in the case of the Cards signing Eric Hosmer, you could potentially have two elite hitters versus right-handed pitching, capable of playing first and third base respectively. Now, admittedly, pushing Carpenter to third is less than ideal in terms of defense (particularly if Hosmer does not, in fact, possess some secret sauce of first base defense), but that 134/151 wRC+ combo looks mighty fine, does it not?

Extra fun in this is that Jedd Gyorko has both a fairly significant career left/right split (120 wRC+ vs lefties, 94 vs righties), but also absolutely devastated left-handed pitching in 2017, to the tune of a .975 OPS/150 wRC+ against lefties. He certainly wasn’t bad against right-handers, either, checking in at a 101 wRC+, but he terrorised the pitchers you might not want to see Hosmer or Matt Carpenter hitting against quite as much.

But what about first base, you ask? Well, have I got a fun little tidbit for you. Jose Martinez, whose career and 2017 are essentially one and the same, was excellent last season, posting a 135 wRC+ overall. He was solid against righties, putting up a .773 OPS and 106 wRC+.

Against left-handers, his line was .407/.493/.847. That’s an OPS of 1.340, and a wRC+ of 240.

Now, obviously, small sample warnings apply; Martinez only got 69 (nice) plate appearances against lefties. But he legitimately destroyed left-handed pitching, he’s going to be looking for playing time in 2017, and he just so happens to play first base as well as the outfield.

So basically, what you could set up with a Hosmer signing is something like Gyorko at third, Martinez at first when a left-hander is on the mound, Carpenter at third and Hosmer at first when a righty is pitching. Gyorko could also move to take some of Kolten Wong’s playing time at second with a lefty on the mound, depending upon who needs a day of. (Or you could go get Jurickson Profar to replace Greg Garcia and make him the platoon partner for both of your middle infielders, but that’s probably just my pipe dream at this point.)

Against left-handers, you could stack a lineup with literally only one lefty in it, either Carpenter, Wong, or Garcia; against righties you could run four left-handed hitters out, five if you wanted to get Paul DeJong a day off. The bench could be awesome, and you could put together lineups capable of roughing up pretty much any pitcher based on matchups.

Now, before anyone says it, yes, I get that Mike Matheny is the manager who would have to manage this, have to figure out the complexities, and he hasn’t really shown any growth in that area. To which I would say, I hear that point and acknowledge it, but at a certain point if every decision that isn’t just, “Pick up an all-star,” has to be argued down on the basis of a bad tactician, we become very limited in terms of discussion topics. And, if Matheny remains so limited in the future as he has been in the past, with the front office’s hand-chosen coaching staff surrounding him, even Matheny’s teflon coating is eventually going to fail.

The point is this: Eric Hosmer is a young, durable player, who gets high marks for his intangibles. He excels at an aspect of defense I think we might have some difficulty measuring. There are reasons to believe he might very well have some upside left that has not yet been extracted. And signing him to this Cardinal roster specifically could give the Redbirds a flexible, potentially devastating infield offense to add to what should be one of the best outfields in baseball. All of which leads me to...

#7: It’s Still Hard to See It

I’ve spent over 4000 words now arguing in favour of why signing Eric Hosmer could be a good idea. And in the end, I think there are compelling reasons why a club like the Cardinals could see upside in the idea that isn’t immediately obvious. Here’s the problem, though: all of the things I’ve said here, all of the angles I’ve considered, are basically bets of the sort you would like to place on a lower-cost player. You sign Jose Bautista and set him up with a launch angle pioneer; you don’t do that with a bet the size of Hosmer. You sign Mike Napoli in 2014 to be your platoon-killing first base option, not a seven-year commitment guy. Eric Hosmer could probably make the Cardinals better if used properly, and there’s a chance he could blow up and we could see some offensive fireworks the next couple years the likes of which we haven’t experienced around here in awhile, particularly if we were talking about the mix-and-match infield approach where every day you have a significant split advantage over the opposing pitcher.

But do you want to bet seven years and $150 million on that?

No. You don’t. You comb the minors for Jose Martinez to do that and see if it works. You pick up Jedd Gyorko on a super cheap deal in exchange for Jon Jay and flex him into the lineup when the matchup is in his favour. If Eric Hosmer were about the get the contract Carlos Santana just got from the Phillies, even, I could see a way in which spending money on that situational upgrade could make sense, particularly if the Cardinals were shut out on their real targets like Donaldson and the like.

But Eric Hosmer is not about to get three years for $60. He’s going to get more than double the length and total commitment of that, pretty much guaranteed. You do not sign a guy for essentially low-end franchise player money and years and then platoon him out of the box, or hope that he’s amenable and capable on the swing change front.

As much as I’ve tried to see Hosmer as a serious upgrade for the Cardinals, I have to admit: in the end, I don’t think you should commit that contract to a player who is useful, who could be a contributor, but is anything less than a slam dunk. And Eric Hosmer is far from a slam dunk.