Tigers lose the momentum, but still have an edge

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It’s not going to be the joyous plane ride home the Tigers were looking forward to, but achieving a split in Fenway, with Justin Verlander about to pitch in Game 3, is a great place for Jim Leyland’s team to be with up to five games remaining in the ALCS.

There’s something to be said for the way the Tigers lost on Sunday night. Up 5-1 in the eighth, victory seems all but assured. That was particularly true in light of the fact that the Red Sox had struck out 30 times and scored once in 16 innings up that point.

But, as the Red Sox showed tonight, momentum counts for so little in baseball it might as well not exist at all. They went from left for dead to Gatorade bathings in the blink of an eye. The Tigers are practiced at coming off tough defeats. They just came from 2-1 down to beat the A’s in the ALDS. Last month, they lost 20-4 to the Red Sox, then came out and drubbed the Royals 16-2 in their next game,  The last four times they were shut out in the regular season (not including that Henderson Alvarez no-hitter in game No. 162),  they won their next game).

Sure, the Red Sox are feeling much better about themselves after David Ortiz’s grand slam. They know the Tigers bullpen is vulnerable. But they knew that going in. They were the favorites two days ago, and they could still be considered the favorites now.

The Tigers’ starting pitching, though, is completely unblemished, and Verlander is coming off two dominant performances against the A’s. To win this series, the Red Sox still need at least two more wins in games started by Verlander, Sanchez and Scherzer, and it’s not like they’re any sort of cinch to win Game 4 with Doug Fister on the mound.

What the Tigers do need is some sort of threat from the top of their lineup. Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter are both 1-for-10 after two games, and Hunter, in particular, has looked awful at the plate. Because of their struggles, neither Miguel Cabrera nor Prince Fielder ever got to hit with a man on base in Game 2. As much as the Red Sox’s offensive impotence was the story for most of Saturday and Sunday, both teams now have scored in exactly three of the 18 innings played.

Game 3 should be fascinating. John Lackey has been rock solid for the Red Sox, but he’s probably going to give up two or three runs, at least. If the Tigers are up 3-1 after seven, will Jim Leyland push Verlander in response to what happened tonight? Verlander is better equipped to go the distance than Sanchez or Scherzer, but he hasn’t completed a game this year and, if nothing else, the Red Sox will probably drive up his pitch count. How the Tigers handle a Game 3 save opportunity could well swing the rest of the series.

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.