KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals have known all along that they would have Eric Hosmer anchoring their lineup next season. All that was left to determine was exactly how much they would be paying him.
Beyond next year is anybody's guess.
The Royals and the All-Star first baseman agreed on a $12.25 million contract on Friday, avoiding arbitration with a deal that could take the 27-year-old Hosmer to free agency after the season.
The 27-year-old Hosmer made $8.3 million last season in the second year of a $13.9 million, two-year contract that he signed to avoid arbitration in 2015. He has won three Gold Gloves and flashed more power at the plate last season, hitting .266 with a career high 25 homers and 104 RBIs.
Of course, that history of performance has only driven up his market value.
General manager Dayton Moore has long been optimistic the Royals will be able to sign their homegrown star to a long-term deal. But the problem is Kansas City also has several other mainstays who are eligible for free agency this fall, and the small-market club likely cannot keep all of them
The list includes breakout left-hander Danny Duffy, shortstop Alcides Escobar, third baseman Mike Moustakas, centre fielder Lorenzo Cain and veteran left-hander Jason Vargas.
Duffy is still eligible for arbitration this off-season. So is closer Kelvin Herrera.
Duffy has asked for $8 million in arbitration while the Royals have offered $7.25 million, a sizable raise from his $4,225,000 million salary in 2016. Herrera has asked for $5.6 million and been offered $5,050,000 after making $2.6 million last season.
"We'll try to sign as many of our young guys as we can to longer-term contracts," Moore said. "We won't be able to sign them all, as you know, and that's something we'll have to figure out. I'm accountable for figuring that out. But I want to make very clear, from the first day I took this job, we always tried to put the best team we could on the field each and every night.
"Yeah," Moore said shortly after the season, "we need to have long-term goals and projections, but this game is so unpredictable and it changes minute to minute."
Yet Hosmer has been just about the most predictable young player in the Royals' lineup.
After rocketing through the minors, Hosmer made his debut as a 21-year-old and hit .293 with 19 homers and 78 RBIs in an abbreviated rookie season. He regressed a bit the following year, but batted a career best .302 in 2013 and led the Royals to the World Series the next two years.
He's played at least 152 games every season but one since his rookie year, and his .277 average over his first six seasons has made him a dependable piece in manager Ned Yost's lineup.
Hosmer has also become a mainstay in the community, working with several charities, including Big Brothers Big Sisters. When that is factored into his play, it is little wonder that the personable, polite Hosmer has become one of the Royals' biggest fan-favourites.