Heading to Arizona for some Cactus League action

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It’s gonna be a lot of radio silence from me today as, by the time you’re reading this, I will be on an airplane heading west. Yep, it’s that time of year again. I’m off to spring training for the fourth straight year. And for the third straight year I’m doing it up Cactus League-style.

Some folks have asked me why I keep going back to Arizona instead of down to Florida. There are two answers, really. The first and most direct one being logistics. All 15 of the Cactus League teams play in the Phoenix metro area, and life is way better when you can stay in one hotel and not burn so much time crisscrossing a state to get to the next park.

But the better reason is simply the vibe, man. Sure, if you’re a partisan of a specific team and only want to check them out during spring training you’re best served going where your team is. And, having been there, I can tell you that it’s all kind of fun going to Fort Myers for the Sox or Twins, Clearwater for the Phillies, Lakeland for the Tigers and on and on.  But if you just want to soak up any kind of spring training action, Arizona is the place to go. You can wake up each morning and say “hmm, which park do I want to hit today?” and make up your mind over your huevos rancheros. You can also simply rack up a larger number of places and teams seen. And if you find a cool bar, a cool restaurant or a cool greasy spoon, you can keep going back, time and time again, if that’s what you’re into.

I’m into that. And this year — while still leaving some room for that breakfast spontaneity — I’m going to do my best to hit every park. The tentative schedule is as follows:

  • Today: Hohokam Park for the Cubs and Dodgers in Mesa, assuming no flight delays;
  • Thursday 2/28: Scottsdale for the Giants and Mariners;
  • Friday 3/1: Tempe Diablo for the Angels and Dodgers;
  • Saturday 3/2: Salt River Fields for the Rangers and Diamondbacks (grit warning);
  • Sunday 3/3: Camelback Ranch for the Dodgers and Indians;
  • Monday 3/4: Surprise for the Rangers and Padres;
  • Tuesday 3/5: Phoenix Municipal for the Athletics and … the Italian WBC team! Which should be fun;
  • Wednesday 3/6: Goodyear for the Indians and Dodgers;
  • Thursday 3/7: Maryvale for the Diamondbacks and Brewers;
  • Friday 3/8 Day: Probably Peoria for the A’s and Mariners; Night: Chase Field for the USA vs. Mexico WBC game.

Yes, that’s a lot of Dodgers, but I can’t really control who the visiting team is and, frankly, 85% of my time at a park is spent with the home team. And yes, I know I’m missing some teams — unless I change my mind I won’t be able to see if Jeff Francoeur is truly in the BSOHL or watch Shin-Soo Choo attempting to play center field — but those are the breaks. Like I said, this is all subject to change and, as has happened in years past, it may very well change. Except the pictures of equipment bags on the field. That never changes. Yes, I know I have a problem.

And by the way: if you’re in Arizona and find yourself at one of these places on one of these days, by all means, let me know and we can pull an impromptu HBT meetup. Probably the best way to track my movements and/or stalk me is to get my attention is on Twitter. You can follow me and reply to me here.  You can also send me an email by clicking the “Feedback” button on the upper right corner of the HBT main page. No love notes, though. Gleeman reads those emails too.

So that’s that. Next time I talk to you it’ll be on Mountain Standard Time, live from the Valley of the Sun.

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.