Bad omen for Red Sox? Not necessarily

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youkilis_090929.jpgAs bad as they’ve looked over the past five games, the Boston Red Sox are once again back in the playoffs, thanks to the Los Angeles Angels, who eliminated the Texas Rangers from contention on Tuesday night.

That’s a record seventh wild card berth for Boston, as well as its sixth playoff appearance in the last seven seasons. But after two championships since 2004, simply making the postseason is no longer good enough for Red Sox fans.

So after five straight losses – including a weekend sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees – there has got to be plenty of handwringing going on over at Red Sox Nation headquarters. The good feelings of a hot September start have faded during a 5-8 run that could have been even worse if not for a three-game sweep of the pathetic Orioles.

In light of the current losing streak, is there reason for worry in Boston? Is the recent swoon a sign of terrible things to come?

Not necessarily.

According to some research by blogger Lisa Swan at The Faster Times, a hot run in September has little bearing on what happens in October. Also, a fade at the end of the regular season does not spell doom in the postseason.

Ever since three Wild Card teams in a row – the 2002 Angels, the 2003 Marlins, and the 2004 Red Sox – won the World Series after sizzling Septembers, people have thought that ending the season on a hot streak is the key to postseason success. Only thing is, it’s not often the case.

True, going on a run down the stretch – like the 2007 Rockies did, when they went 21-8 over the last month of the regular season – will frequently catapult a team into the playoffs. But it doesn’t necessarily increase the likelihood of postseason success.

Swan looked at the results of all 72 playoff teams from 2000-08, and found that of the 10 teams that won more than 70 percent of their regular season games in September and October, only the 2007 Rockies made it was far as the World Series, and they were swept by the Red Sox. Only four of the 10 even made it past the first round.

On the other hand, during the same stretch there were six playoff teams that finished with a losing record down the stretch. Four of those teams made it the World Series, and the 2006 Cardinals and 2000 Yankees took home the big trophy.

After Tuesday night’s loss, the Red Sox are 15-12 in September, a perfectly fine .555 winning percentage. Sure, there are concerns, primarily on the pitching side of things. Josh Beckett’s back might be ailing him, Jon Lester is recovering from taking a liner off his knee, Clay Buchholz and Michael Bowden don’t appear to be ready for prime time, and Dice-K is – well, who knows what you’ll get from Dice-K.

But now is not the time to be worried, Red Sox fans, as a September swoon has little bearing on what happens in October. Just take a cue from your ever-calm manager:

“We don’t really look at it like that,” Francona said. “Whatever happened nine days ago is not going to affect tomorrow. What we’re thinking about is today.”

Eric Hosmer’s eight-year, $144 million contract isn’t that bad

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Late Saturday night, Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Padres and first baseman Eric Hosmer agreed to an eight-year, $144 million contract, the new largest contract in club history. According to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY Sports, the contract includes an opt-out after the fifth year. Further, Hosmer will average $21 million per year for those first five years and $13 million for the final three years, so it’s severely front-loaded.

Hosmer, 28, had a career year last season, playing in all 162 games while batting .318/.385/.498 with 25 home runs, 94 RBI, and 98 runs scored in 671 plate appearances. Per Baseball Reference, Hosmer accrued 4.0 Wins Above Replacement, only one of six first basemen to do so. At No. 6, he was 0.4 WAR behind Anthony Rizzo and 0.4 WAR ahead of Logan Morrison.

Wil Myers had previously told the Padres he would accept a position change if the club were to sign Hosmer. He will be moving to the outfield as a result. The Padres now have a logjam in the outfield, so Jose Pirela could move moved to the infield. How the Padres plan to handle that situation remains to be seen.

The general consensus about the Hosmer signing once news broke was that it is laughably bad. Back in November, Dave Cameron — ironically now in the Padres’ front office — called Hosmer a “free agent landmine.” That thought hasn’t really changed among many writers. For example, using restraint, Dennis Lin of The Athletic calls the deal “a big gamble.” MLB Network’s Brian Kenny said Hosmer has at least three “red flags.”

FanGraphs projects the Padres to finish 71-91, so adding Hosmer isn’t likely to transform the club into a contender on his own. That being said, the Padres’ payroll was only at $70 million prior to the Hosmer signing, so the contract won’t hamstring them going forward. If the young nucleus of players — including Manuel Margot and Hunter Renfroe — perform as expected, the Padres could be a threat in the NL West relatively soon with plenty of cheap, cost-controlled players and having some experienced veterans like Hosmer and Myers could be useful for their intangibles — pennant race/playoff experience, clubhouse presence, leadership, etc.

Hosmer has had three seasons of 3.5 WAR or more, according to Baseball Reference. He’s had four between -0.5 and 1.0. Now entering his age-28 season, it’s hardly a guarantee he’ll be an All-Star-caliber player in 2018, let alone in 2022 when he is 32 years old. From a strict dollars-to-WAR standpoint in a complete vacuum, one could’ve done better than Hosmer at eight years, $144 million.

The Padres, however, aren’t a small market team; they just operate like one. Forbes valued the club at $1.125 billion last April. The Padres don’t have the financial muscle of the Dodgers or Yankees, but paying Eric Hosmer $18 million on average for the first five years of his contract won’t come close to hurting the organization in any way, shape, or form. More importantly, signing Hosmer shows the rest of the team and the fans a commitment to being legitimate, bumping the payroll up towards $90 million. That now dwarfs teams like the large-market Phillies, who opened up spring training with just over $60 million in player obligations.

In the grand scheme of things, the Hosmer signing is also a good sign given the standstill in the free agent market. Many veteran players — even reliever Fernando Abad, who posted a 3.30 ERA last season — had to settle for minor league contracts instead of guaranteed major league deals. Many others, including the likes of Jake Arrieta and J.D. Martinez, remain unsigned. The rumor that Hosmer wanted more than seven years and close to $150 million was laughed at last month. Agent Scott Boras was still able to get his client the deal he wanted, which could bode well for those still teamless. Martinez’s patience may yet be rewarded like Hosmer’s was; money may once again start flowing in the free agent economy.

In summation, the Eric Hosmer contract is good if: you are Eric Hosmer, related to or a friend of Eric Hosmer, a teammate of Hosmer’s, Scott Boras, a current or soon-to-be free agent, a Padres fan, and a baseball fan in general. The Hosmer contract is bad if: you are a penny-pinching owner of a Major League Baseball team, or someone who cares more about $/WAR than an actual good product being put on the field.