PEORIA, Ariz. – Talks between the sides resumed last week, sparking renewed optimism within the Padres organization that they could land free-agent first baseman Eric Hosmer.
And indications are they really do want him.
Badly enough that they are essentially going to forfeit being big-time players in what is expected to be a banner free-agent market next offseason.
Signing Hosmer would mean no play for Manny Machado, Josh Donaldson, DJ LeMahieu or Marwin Gonzalez. While there remains time for their current clubs to sign them, those four plus Bryce Harper and other all-stars are scheduled to become free agents after this season.
That's because if Hosmer is signed, there won't be another high-priced addition in 2019, two people familiar with the team's thinking said this week.
First off, the Padres personnel department has fallen in love with Hosmer _ his ability to get on base and his character.
Additionally, the team's thinking is that given the approach by several other teams, who have taken a penny-wise approach to this year's free-agency class with designs on spending big next year, the Padres would be hard-pressed to make competitive offers for the likes of Harper or Machado.
This tack would seem very much in line with the philosophy put forth by Padres ownership.
Whether they are called "prudent" or "frugal" for their current low-cost major-league roster, Ron Fowler and Peter Seidler have professed a willingness to invest in veteran players to round out the roster once they feel they are close to being championship contenders.
But their payroll will almost certainly never be in MLB's top third. The thinking seems to be that provided the personnel department is doing its job by stocking and continually replenishing the minor-league system, the team can build from within, supplementing with a minimal number of higher-priced additions when necessary.
The Houston Astros won the World Series last year with a payroll ranked in the middle of MLB's 30 teams. The Royals did so in 2015. The Indians went to the World Series in '16 with a payroll ranked in the bottom third.
There is no indication the Padres have an advantage with Hosmer or that an agreement is imminent, but the resumption of engagement after what was described as a prolonged period of inactivity is a strong indication the Padres are in the running. Around the club, hope seems to have turned into optimism.
Reports have placed Hosmer's ask at seven years (or more) with an average annual value of around $20 million. It is also possible he will sign a deal with some team for a shorter duration that allows him to test the market again while still in his prime producing (and thus, earning) years.
While there remains a gap between what the Padres have offered and what Hosmer's agent, Scott Boras, is requesting, there is a belief the sides are close enough that a deal doesn't have to wait. There is also a belief Hosmer doesn't want to be out of camp for an extended period.
Even with Hosmer, the Padres would not be expected to challenge this season in the loaded National League West.
But with the Padres harboring a goal of contention perhaps as early as 2019 and no later than 2020, the 28-year-old Hosmer would still be in his prime years as the franchise begins what it believes will be an extended window wherein their highly touted prospects make them annual championship contenders.
Further, Hosmer could immediately begin to rub off on the young players and further what the Padres believe is a burgeoning chemistry on the club.
The team's background work talking with several dozen coaches, players and others who know Hosmer has turned up exclusively positive reports regarding his work ethic and leadership abilities. Additionally, Hosmer is bilingual, which would be a commodity in connecting in an increasingly Latin-infused clubhouse.
Those traits are in addition, of course, to what the Padres think he can do on the field.
Hosmer has a career batting average of .284, career on-base percentage of .342 and career slugging percentage of .439. He posted career highs in all three categories last year (.318/.385/.498) and those numbers over the past three seasons are higher than those for his career.
Hosmer's 4.1 WAR (wins above replacement) according to FanGraphs ranked 35th among all position players and fourth among first basemen in 2017.
He walks in almost 10 percent of his plate appearances and strikes out less than 16 percent of the time. Both those ratios put him in the league's top tier in those categories, especially when considering he hits for decent power as well (25 homers each of the past two season).
Hosmer, who happens to also provide the left-handed bat the Padres need, played every game last season and averaged 152 games played from 2012-16.
All that has the Padres ready to spend more than they ever have on a player. But only one of them at that price.