On Tuesday morning, 12 miles down the road from Royals camp, a television crew prepared to go live inside a spacious room at the Peoria Sports Complex. A bank of cameras sat atop a platform in the back. A row of television screens flashed the same image: A Royals cornerstone wearing a different uniform, accompanied by the same five words.
“Welcome to San Diego Eric Hosmer.”
This was the first day of the rest of Hosmer’s baseball life, and most everything was different, from the uniform colors, to the league, to the location of the spring training facility on Bell Road. Even Hosmer seemed a little more nervous than usual, his voice cracking at least three times as he sat in front of a microphone.
Yet as he sought to explain his decision to leave Kansas City and sign an eight-year, $144 million contract with the Padres, he made reference to his past. In Kansas City, he was part of a wave of talent that crested at once, turning a lost franchise into a champion. In the Padres, he saw a similar image, an opportunity to be the leader of a similar awakening.
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“Ultimately, it came down to me really liking this organization and the direction it’s going,” Hosmer said. “And that’s basically what it came down to.”
Hosmer was twice asked if he had been close to a deal with the Royals, the only other serious suitor for his services. He deftly sidestepped the question each time, showcasing the media savvy that is part of his larger package of intangibles. His relationship with the Royals is different, he said. He offered a limited window into his decision-making process.
“It’s a different relationship when you win a world championship for an organization and for a city like Kansas City,” Hosmer said. “I grew up in this game and in that organization, and some of the moments that I’ve had in Kansas City, on and off the field, with the people of Kansas City, are some of the best times I’ve had in my life.”
Hosmer’s decision, like most occupational choices, largely rested on the financials. The Padres guaranteed the most money and the most years. They offered an opt-out after five seasons, sweetening the deal. Yet Hosmer said he spent much of the offseason studying the Padres’ minor-league system and learning the tenets of their plan. He watched video of the prospects in their pipeline and discussed them with Padres general manager A.J. Preller and his agent, Scott Boras. Hosmer believed, in time, he could win in San Diego.
“The very plan that San Diego has is one that he’s lived through,” said Boras, who earlier described the organization as a “volcano of hot talent lava.”
Switching metaphors, Boras said Hosmer “brings with him a very chronicled and real library for everyone in this locker room to read.”
Hosmer spoke Tuesday of fruitful conversations with Preller, Padres manager Andy Green and the organization’s ownership, including chairman Ron Fowler. Boras confirmed to The Star that Hosmer had similar conversations this winter with owner David Glass and general manager Dayton Moore.
Moore sought to be transparent about the organization’s plan moving forward and its intention to rebuild with him at first base. The Royals, however, remain behind the Padres in the timeline of their rebuild and the talent in their system.
“There was a clear exchange about what they accomplished and where they’re going,” Boras said. “And there are certainly economic factors, and there’s also a lot of factors about what Eric’s goals are going forward.”
All winter long, Moore had been open about his desire to re-sign Hosmer to what would have been the largest contract in franchise history. Boras was asked Tuesday if he sensed that Royals ownership offered the same commitment during negotiations.
“The Glass family brought a championship to Kansas City,” Boras said. “They deserve the credit … to build the next generation there, it’s going to take a greater effort because of what it took to build a champion. You exhaust your resources to create a championship team, and then following that, as an ownership, it’s something where you have to make the decision to invest more … or you have to go through the lull of refueling the gas tank.”
Boras stopped the metaphor, then returned to the question.
“Franchise values go up over a billion dollars,” he said. “Revenues are tremendous when you win. The game’s economics certainly allow for a quicker (turnaround), but those are individual decisions. Dayton is a uniquely talented general manager, and I’m sure if he had the wherewithal economically, he could speed up this process rather rapidly. That’s an ownership choice.”
In the end, the Royals could not match the Padres’ bid, nor could they match their prospects, so Hosmer spent Tuesday morning talking about his new life. As his girlfriend, Kacie McDonnell, sat near the front, he spoke of the weather in San Diego and his history at Petco Park, where he won All-Star Game MVP in 2016.
“The city speaks for itself,” Hosmer said. “The ballpark speaks for itself. I couldn’t think of a better place.”
The Padres will now ask Hosmer to lead their youth movement and guide the careers of a wave of young players. Preller said that the club would not ask him to “be Knute Rockne and deliver speeches from minute one,” but his role as an older brother figure is fairly clear.
“The things that he shows daily,” Preller said, “like the passion for the game, the love for the game, the competitive, the intellect, having a curious mind.”
As he finished his first news conference with the Padres, Hosmer stood up and did a brief television interview. Moments later, he left the room and headed for his first workout, a No. 30 Padres uniform still on his back. He will wear it to honor his former teammate Yordano Ventura, but it will also remind him of the core of players in Kansas City, he said. They all came up together. They want to remember the connection.
“It meant a lot to me,” he said.
Now Hosmer will search for another connection with another group of young players. His role will be different this time. But he’s ready.
“It’s an exciting time because everybody hears all the hype and all about these guys,” he said. “And then once one guy comes up, it seems like the fan base really latches on and appreciates that player, and then before you know it, there’s another guy rolling in, and another guy. It’s a lot of similarities.”