The Rangers go to court today

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For what it’s worth, I continue to stand by my story about the Rangers-Astros talks. A deal may never happen because of all the financial complications surrounding the team, but that doesn’t mean the front office has simply given up the notion of trying to improve itself. Quite the contrary, actually.

And though he was the first to say I was full of it regarding the Oswalt thing yesterday, Buster Olney is right about one thing: the hearing that’s going down in a Dallas bankruptcy court this morning regarding the Rangers’ sale is going to tell us an awful lot about how aggressive Jon Daniels will be able to be in adding pieces to his contending ballclub.

For those who missed it or whose eyes glaze over at such things, today’s hearing is going to determine the time frame of the Rangers’ bankruptcy proceedings and ultimately the sale of the team.  If things go smoothly, there could be a schedule in place that has the team emerging from bankruptcy before the trade deadline.  If they don’t go smoothly, the process could be protracted and Major League Baseball will continue to foot the bill in Texas. That would likely mean no big shiny pieces added for the playoff stretch.

The complicating factor: on Friday, the creditors to Hicks Sports Group made a filing in which they purported to establish that one of the losing bidders — the Jim Crane Group — had a superior bid to the Greenberg-Ryan Group. The emails that were part of the filing are not flattering for the Rangers, inasmuch as they show Hicks Sports Group people (i.e. the ones selling the Rangers) admitting that Crane was offering more money. Perhaps $13-20 million more.

Major League Baseball counters, however, saying that those communications and the money discussed therein reflected unauthorized negotiations during a time when Greenberg was supposed to have exclusive dealing rights, so they don’t count. More importantly, baseball says that during that same time (i.e. the exclusive negotiating window) Greenberg’s offer improved dramatically itself, so the communications are misleading at best.

I understand what baseball is trying to say here, but they probably need to be careful about how hard they hit the notion that baseball’s bidding calendar and exclusive negotiating periods control the matter.  For one thing, one of the most important party to the deal — Hicks Sports Group — apparently didn’t give a rat’s butt about the exclusive window, because it was apparently still negotiating with Crane.

For another thing, baseball’s right to control these kinds of sales, to pick the bidders and to ultimately pick the winners, is not as iron-clad as it likes to pretend it is.  It’s hardly ever challenged so, yeah, in practice it has always had the right to do it. But at least one federal court has held that baseball cannot control this process like it thinks it can. Though it would likely be a logistical nightmare, if a given team owner and a prospective team buyer wanted to do their own deal and leave MLB out of it, they could theoretically do it.

This case would be different in that, rather than a team owner who wants to reject MLB’s wishes, it would be a court substituting its judgment for the bankrupt team.  Specifically, the bankruptcy judge is tasked with figuring out what’s best for the creditors here, not what’s best for Major League Baseball’s interpretation of the breadth of its antitrust exemption, and he could very well say “Hey, Crane had a higher bid here before he was shut out; we need to reopen this bidding to make sure the best deal is done.” I have no clue what the judge will do with all of this. The easy play would simply be to defer to MLB and the Rangers and get the sale done. But he could be a maverick and decide to reopen the sale.

In any event, we’ll definitely have a better idea after today of what is within the realm of the possible for the Texas Rangers.

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.