Betting big on Eric Hosmer a smart gamble for Padres

The San Diego Padres broke the bank for Eric Hosmer, but will the move pay off with winning results?

Without a playoff berth since 2006, and more than 600 games below .500 since joining Major League Baseball in 1969, winning has never come easily for the San Diego Padres. Attempts at building a sustainable contender have never paid off for the small-market California team. Bursts of spending have just been enough to offset the franchise’s deficiencies in developing All-Star talent through the draft and international amateurs.

With that in mind, how should Padres fans — and MLB fans in general — view the team’s latest attempt at buying their way back into contention?

Checking in at eight years and $140 million, All-Star first baseman Eric Hosmer’s newly-inked deal is far and away the biggest in Padres history, and will likely end up being the most expensive contract of the offseason barring Scott Boras working some serious magic for J.D. Martinez.

The Padres have been down this road before, as recently as 2015. That year, A.J. Preller roared into town and went about acquiring Justin Upton, James Shields, Matt Kemp, Melvin Upton and Craig Kimbrel in an effort to speed up the process of returning to the postseason.

That team flopped to a 74-88 record and cost manager Bud Black his job. All the big names were shipped out, and the Padres went back to rebuilding yet again.

Back in rebuild mode, Preller went back to doing what he was actually best at — building a farm system from the ground up. That was his specialty with the Texas Rangers.

The Padres system now ranks among the best in baseball, with Fernando Tatis Jr. ranked by most analysts as a top-five prospect. ESPN’s Keith Law put seven San Diego farmhands in his top-100 list and called the system deeper than it’s ever been.

Things are looking up for the Padres, even in one of the most difficult divisions in baseball where three teams made the playoffs last year. The prospects are still a year or two away, but this was absolutely the right time to make a play on a big free agent like Hosmer.

A team like the Padres has to be realistic with itself. Manny Machado and Bryce Harper will be free agents next year. While San Diego is arguably the most beautiful city in the league with the best weather, it’s just not a destination for the best of the best. There’s no history of winning, and the Padres are never going to be able to spend with the likes of Los Angeles, Chicago, New York or Boston.

In this unique, slow-moving offseason, the Padres were in the perfect position to push for a free agent like Hosmer. The Washington Nationals made a similar move with Jayson Werth eight years ago. Werth, like Hosmer, will never be mistaken for a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he had seen plenty of winning and was a World Series champion. Both are the perfect, understated leaders to help mold an up-and-coming clubhouse into a winner.

The Chicago Cubs also made a similar play with Jon Lester and won the World Series within two years.

With an average salary of $17.5 million, Hosmer is definitely overpaid as a premium first baseman. His power numbers will never measure up with the best corner infielders in baseball and his defense is nothing special.

However, paying a little bit extra for this type of player won’t hurt the Padres’ long-term vision. Their financial situation is still solid and flexible moving forward.

The Padres aren’t where the Cubs were when they signed Lester, and they don’t have a once-in-a-generation talent coming up through the minors like the Nationals had with Bryce Harper, but they will field a winner during Eric Hosmer’s time with the club.

There’s risk involved — there always is with eight-year deals — but this time around, the Padres are going for it in a much more calculated manner. Signing Hosmer isn’t so much a gamble as an investment focused on ensuring all the efforts to develop homegrown stars do not go for naught.