This is how Derek Jeter got deified in the first place

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I’ve had several conversations with non-baseball obsessives lately about Derek Jeter. Friends. Family. Sports radio hosts who talk about football 97% of the time and are desperate to talk about anything — anything! — besides the NFL labor thing.  Those conversations always come back to the same place: Where does Derek Jeter rate all-time?

At that point I usually don’t actually rate him, but I talk about how it’s difficult to talk about Derek Jeter right now. Because for years he was so overhyped and then lately all of his greatness has been forgotten by many who are rushing to bury him due to his decline. And then it gets complicated again when he approaches the 3000-hit plateau and we lerch back toward deification.  This kind of deification, by Ian O’Connor of ESPN New York:

Jeter didn’t merely become the 28th major leaguer and first Yankee to reach 3,000 hits, and the only man not named Wade Boggs to do so with a homer; he turned the afternoon into a this-is-your-life review of his greatness, claiming five hits and the winning RBI against the Tampa Bay Rays and choking the life out of the non-stop talk of his imminent demise.

One last time, with feeling, Jeter was No. 2 in your program and No. 1 in your heart.

And it just goes on and on like that.

This is what I’m talking about when I say that Jeter gets overhyped. An educated sports observer who watches tons of games and should be expected to have at least an ounce of perspective about Jeter’s place in the universe allows himself — and the readers who trust his judgment — to launch into the starry-eyed stratosphere over hit number 3,000. A great accomplishment, sure, but not one that needs or justifies this kind of prose.

Prose that will soon be forgotten, I’m guessing, when Jeter’s demise as an elite player comes back to the forefront.  My friend Repoz from the Baseball Think Factory website reminded us over the weekend that Jeter’s chances of choking the life out of that kind of talk can’t be any better than Mickey Mantle’s. The same Mickey Mantle, Repoz noted on his Facebook page, who went 5 for 5 — the first 5 for 5 game of his career — on May 30, 1968, which led to a lot of people talking about Mantle being back. After the 5 for 5 Mantle went 2 for his next 24 and retired nine months later saying, “I just can’t hit anymore.”

I’m not saying that Jeter will do the same. And I am certain that we will all one day agree that Jeter was one of the best ever, because it happens to be true.  But he’s a ballplayer. No different in kind than any other ballplayer, and no more immune to the effects of time and vagaries of fortune, both good and bad, than anyone else.  To write about his game on Saturday as if that wasn’t what was happening — that he has somehow slayed a dragon and discovered a fountain of youth, and boy aren’t we blessed to have witnessed it — is a bit much for me. And ultimately does us all a disservice as we try to assess the true gravity of Derek Jeter the ballplayer and hit number 3,000 the accomplishment.

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.