It sure seems like most people are not exactly lining up to give new San Diego Padres first baseman Eric Hosmer credit for his terrific 2017 season, but this was actually a top-30 fantasy option on the Player Rater. Hosmer hit .318, had the 19th-most at-bats (603) in the majors, blasted 25 home runs for the second consecutive season and scored 98 runs, which was good for the No. 19 mark in the game.
You can bark about the money and commitment bestowed upon Hosmer, or the fact that the lowly Padres seem like an odd fit, but for statistical purposes -- and that is what we deal with in this space -- Hosmer is a good player. That should not change in 2018.
Hosmer has become a lightning rod for criticism because his Kansas City Royals career featured inconsistent production and a frustrating pattern of every-other-season success. He posted a wins above replacement of 3.6 in both 2013 and 2015 and 4.0 in 2017. However, he was a replacement-level player in 2014 and 2016. I do not buy into patterns like this as predictive, though, so expecting Hosmer to struggle merely because of the calendar seems like guesswork.
Switching leagues and home ballparks does matter, however, and we are talking about an extreme ground-ball hitter. A mere three qualified hitters posted a higher ground ball percentage than Hosmer's 55.6 mark; one of them should be hitting baseballs on the ground (Dee Gordon) and the others are well past their prime (Hunter Pence, David Freese) and probably can't avoid it. Still, despite not elevating the ball consistently, Hosmer hit 25 home runs, and 16 of them came in Kauffman Stadium, a tough pitchers' park. Petco Park is a beautiful place and similarly favors the pitchers, but I believe Hosmer can hit another 25 home runs.
As a fantasy option, Hosmer retains his value. The Royals did not have the deepest lineup, either. Hosmer does good things, like hitting for modest but consistent power, and there is a ton of value in a high batting average combined with durability. I view him as a borderline top-10 first baseman and, I suppose, a top-50 option for drafts, though he fits into my seventh round. I will neither target nor avoid him. First base is not a weak fantasy position, and I do not see much upside in the numbers, but Hosmer is, despite evidence to the contrary in recent seasons, relatively safe statistically.
I am a bit perplexed as to why the Padres, in their current state of rebuilding, would covet such a player because it pushes Wil Myers to the outfield, and that seems like a bad idea all around. It also likely blocks an outfield prospect or two who I wanted to see get an opportunity.
No, Myers was not exactly Keith Hernandez over there at first base, but Padres pitchers do not figure to enjoy his defensive acumen in the outfield, either. Then again, having Hosmer in the lineup, presumably following Myers in the order, could help with counting stats. Adding fantasy eligibility after 10 outfield games is helpful in fantasy, as well.
With Manuel Margot entrenched in center field (future star alert!) and Myers in a corner, the Padres now cannot give regular at-bats to Hunter Renfroe, Franchy Cordero, Jose Pirela and Alex Dickerson. Perhaps none of these fellows would have been great for fantasy, but now things become more problematic. Renfroe hit 26 home runs over 445 at-bats as a rookie, albeit with low contact and a 29.2 strikeout rate that did not come with walks. Still, he is 26 and should be playing regularly in right field. Now, he likely will not. Cordero is a potential five-category provider who is suddenly buried, while Pirela hit nicely in his age-27 season, and Dickerson did so in 2016 before missing last season. Things are unnecessarily crowded.
Time will tell whether Hosmer is truly worth the Padres' investment. In some ways, this is similar to when the Washington Nationals and outfielder Jayson Werth came together for a longer-term contract worth even more money. The Nats were not a winning team at that point, and it took a few years. By the time they were winning, Werth was not the same player, but he was also five years older than Hosmer when he signed.