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Red Sox put new spin on first baseman market

Boston retains Mitch Moreland, which muddies Eric Hosmer’s potential landing spots

Arizona Diamondbacks v Kansas City Royals Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

At one point early in the offseason, Mitch Moreland’s non-scintillating production at first base was a big reason why the Red Sox maintained a mild-but-detectable interest in Jose Abreu.

Moreland delivered what the Red Sox expected, but they lacked impact performances elsewhere. That made Moreland’s shortcomings a little more detectable, and thus his roster spot more upgradeable. As Dombrowski said:

“I know that we didn’t have David [Ortiz], but if you said that he was basically replaced by Mitch Moreland, we didn’t look to replace him one-on-one with Mitch Moreland,” said Dombrowski. “Mitch Moreland did fine for us.”

But Dombrowski left the door open, and Boston welcomed Moreland back on Monday for two years and $13 million. The reaction from those around the Red Sox is one I haven’t often seen: Moreland’s biggest selling point is that Boston avoided a more expensive mistake.

I’ve been increasingly fascinated by Hosmer’s free agency case because I don’t remember the last time there’s been this much pre-crapping on a player for a contract he hasn’t yet signed. Scott Boras’ presence has something to do with it. The agent started with this pitch to the public during the GM meetings in November:

In a colorful performance of salesmanship, Boras said Hosmer, a 28-year-old who helped the Royals to a World Series championship in 2015, profiled as “Playoffville Federal Express.”

“For any franchise,” Boras said, “whether you’re a ‘now’ team, you’re a ‘two-year’ team, or you’re a ‘three-year’ team as far as when you hope to arrive to Playoffville, he’s been ‘Playoffville Federal Express.’ He can be overnight delivery — one-day, two-day, whatever. He fits every franchise.”

And he’s still out there:

“They know of the skill level of the player, but when the player has ‘prestige value’, it brings tremendous value to his WAR,” Boras said. “So when we talk about WAR, we put the ‘PV’ to it. There are minus players that have minus PV, and there are players that have major-league standard Prestige Value, and players that have a well-above average or elite Prestige Value.”

That kind of hyperbole, along with Hosmer’s worrisome relationship between Gold Gloves and metrics, makes him a battleground over narrative and science, even among MLB employees like Mike Petriello and Brian Kenny:

(Which reminds me, this Deadspin article by Emma Baccellieri over the future of sabermetrics is worth your time. One of the weird byproducts of the league driving the analytics conversation: league employees driving the conversation of overrated players.)

With Boston seemingly out of the running — fellow Boras client J.D. Martinez seems like a better fit -- San Diego is the most popular landing spot for reasons nobody has effectively articulated. The Padres already have Wil Myers at first base, which he plays because he already flopped as an outfielder once, so why pay for Hosmer in the league with no DH?

This whole dynamic makes Hosmer the weirdest free agent case remaining, and Kansas City is keeping an eye on it:

The Royals can at least make this interesting with some creativity. What if they offer six years and $125 million, but include a player opt-out after two or three? Make sure their offer is at least competitive with the biggest number, but give Hosmer the power of an opt-out and no-trade clause? [...]

The Royals could promote it as good faith for fans to keep a popular star, and as an example for the next wave. Hosmer is still just 28, so the opt-out would give him one more shot at a big contract if he wasn’t pleased with the organization’s direction.

Every time I think Boras has overplayed a hand for a client, I think of the $214 million contract Prince Fielder signed in January. Grant Brisbee predicted Hosmer landing with the Rockies, and the Cardinals have been active on the corner-infielder front, so there are still ways to lure a nine-figure deal out of somebody.

The difference between Fielder and Hosmer is that Fielder’s power played in any park, while Hosmer has never slugged .500. Fielder’s deal was ill-advised on the whole, but nobody questioned his ability to deliver an instant impact. Hosmer has skeptics even for the first couple years of a deal due to the amount of ground balls he hits.

Hosmer’s intriguing enough by himself. Now, take him and add in Mike Moustakas, whose free agency has no active rumors attached. The longer both corner infielders go without signing, and the longer Dayton Moore goes without trading guys like Danny Duffy and Whit Merrifield, the more doubt creeps in about whether Kansas City is truly going to pack it in.