In which a reporter cites herself as evidence that A-Rod is awful

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Back in 2007 Selena Roberts, then of the New York Times, wrote a story portraying Alex Rodriguez as a slum lord. I criticized that pretty thoroughly, not so much for the facts reported, but for what was clearly agenda-driven reporting and overheated rhetoric that was obviously designed to put Rodriguez in the worst possible light based on the thinnest possible evidence.

A couple of years later Roberts wrote a book about A-Rod that took much the same tack. The reporting of facts which, in and of themselves, were difficult to question due to their heavy reliance on hearsay and anonymous sources, but which were nonetheless accompanied by sweeping character judgments that were totally unwarranted and unsupported by those facts, even if true.

One person saw A-Rod leave a light tip? A-Rod is cheap. A few residents complain about poor upkeep on apartments owned by a company in which A-Rod has an interest? A-Rod is a slum lord. A-Rod admits to taking PEDs? A-Rod is the worst cheater baseball has ever known.  I noted my skepticism then as well, arguing that, in her highest profile work, Roberts has been shown to retreat to character assassination whenever she can. And A-Rod is not the highest profile example of her taking that tack.

The upshot? Whatever her merits as a reporter, in no way am I ever going to give Roberts the benefit of the doubt when it comes to her editorial voice, because she has shown to be irresponsible in the extreme when it comes to drawing conclusions from a set of (often limited) facts presented. And in no way should anything I say on the matter of A-Rod serve as evidence bolstering her world view of the guy.

Against that backdrop, Roberts has a post over at Sports on Earth today in which she speculates about Alex Rodriguez’s financial health given his looming suspension, legal fees, etc.  In the post she revisits the slum lord meme:

“Being a landlord — or a slumlord, as Rodriguez has been called in headlines –– isn’t a winnable position for anyone …”

That link? To my own post at HardballTalk in which I specifically call out Roberts for irresponsibly tossing the slum lord accusation around in the past. In other words: she is citing herself as evidence that people are calling out A-Rod as a slum lord in the headlines.

Of course, she also spends much of that article citing examples of A-Rod’s quite savvy financial decisions — following Warren Buffet’s advice, diversifying investments, downsizing his real estate holdings — as evidence that maybe A-Rod is going broke, so it’s pretty clear she’s still pathological when it comes to the subject of Alex Rodriguez. If there are multiple ways to interpret his actions they will be interpreted as either evil or stupid, full stop. It’s the only way she knows how to understand the guy.

Maybe A-Rod is a slum lord. Maybe he is going broke. Maybe he is the worst cheater the sport has ever seen. But don’t take whatever Roberts has to say about it as evidence, because she’s perhaps the most startling example of A-Rod Derangement Syndrome in recorded history.

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.