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Is Eric Hosmer worth the price tag?

The Mets won’t sign him, but the first baseman could be of help, although for a steep price.

World Series - Kansas City Royals v New York Mets - Game Five Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

Eric Hosmer doesn’t exactly have a soft spot in Mets’ fans hearts. Thanks to his exploits in the 2015 World Series, including scoring the game-tying run in the ninth inning of Game 5, Hosmer can be categorized with the Yadier Molinas and Orel Hershisers of the world as players who famously destroyed the Mets in a big playoff series.

But this offseason, the first baseman has reached free agency for the first time in his career. And the Mets may or may not have a hole at first base, depending on who you ask and their opinion of Dominic Smith. Either way, if the Mets had the money to spend and didn’t want to rely on the high-risk Smith, they could make a splash, sign Hosmer, and use Smith as a trade chip instead.

Hosmer is hitting free agency at the perfect time, coming off arguably his best offensive season to date, in which he posted a .318/.385/.498 line for the Royals along with a career-best 135 wRC+ and 4.1 fWAR. Hosmer is looking to cash in mightily this winter off his 2017 season, and having Scott Boras as his agent can’t hurt. Boras and Hosmer reportedly could be seeking a contract worth up to $200 million for the 28-year-old.

That said, based on his track record, it’s pretty clear that Hosmer isn’t worth nearly that much money. In seven full seasons, he’s posted just 9.9 total fWAR, which is an average of just 1.4 fWAR per season. He’s had three seasons—2012, 2014, and 2016—in which he didn’t crack replacement level. But conversely, he has also flashed his true talent multiple times. He has been worth over 3.0 fWAR three times in his career: in 2013, 2015, and 2017, with a wRC+ over 120 in each of those seasons.

This is to say that Hosmer is about as uneven as it gets, and you never truly know what you’re going to get from him. The main reason for his inconsistencies could be his extreme tendency to pull ground balls. Being a slow-footed, left-handed hitter with good power, it would make sense for Hosmer to try keeping the ball off the ground as much as possible. He has a ground ball rate of 53% for his career, however, and in 2016, it was all the way up to 58.9%, which was the second-highest GB% of all qualified hitters that year. Even in his good years, he still hits the ball on the ground over half the time.

That he’s still been able to find success despite those ground ball rates is a testament to his natural abilities. And given the amount of shifting that happens in today’s game, Hosmer’s prospects for future success could be boosted tremendously if he could fix his launch angles and stop hitting the ball on the ground so much.

And a new team may be willing to work with him on that. The Mets’ former hitting coach Kevin Long was famous for working with players on their launch angles and getting them to hit the ball in the air more. Long is gone now, but the Mets’ new hitting coach, Pat Roessler, was Long’s assistant for his three years with the team. It’s hard to imagine Roessler deviating much from the coach who he assisted for so long, especially with modern trends valuing launch angle more anyway. There’s merit to the idea that Roessler could work with Hosmer on hitting the ball in the air more often and fixing the problems with his approach.

And it’s not like there isn’t enough ability there to make it work, either. Hosmer has always had immense latent hitting ability, and it’s evidenced by the fact that, even in his bad seasons, he doesn’t strike out very often, walks a fair amount, and has strong bat-to-ball abilities. You don’t have to squint to see the superstar upside.

But is that a gamble worth taking for the price tag? It remains to be seen if any team would dare to give Hosmer as much as $200 million, but Dave Cameron of Fangraphs did predict Hosmer would net a six-year, $126 million deal. That’s still a hefty gamble for a player with an incredibly steep downside.

Of course, it doesn’t seem like that’s a contract even in the neighborhood of what the Mets could afford right now anyway. With recent reports saying the Mets may only have $10-15 million more to spend this offseason, whatever contract Hosmer could get would be way out of their price range. But in a world where the Mets have money to spend, it would be interesting to see if they would go after Hosmer or not, especially with much of the fanbase still having a sour taste in their mouths after the 2015 World Series.