Eric Hosmer ready for leadership role with San Diego Padres, will wear No. 30 to honor Yordano Ventura


PEORIA, Ariz. — Eric Hosmer arrived at San Diego Padres camp Tuesday with a new uniform number, a desire to lead and a personal mandate to take the franchise to a place it’s never been.

Hosmer, 28, landed the biggest guaranteed payout of the MLB offseason when he agreed to an eight-year, $144 million deal with San Diego on Saturday. The contract, which includes a fifth-year opt-out, easily surpasses the four-year, $75 million deal for pitcher James Shields that previously set the standard for a Padres free agent.

Hosmer said he is ready to embrace a leadership role for the Padres, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2006 or logged a winning record since 2010 and have lost the only two World Series appearances since their inception in 1969. He hopes to convey some of the winning mindset that he developed as a pivotal member of Kansas City’s 2015 championship club.

“Every player’s goal is to ultimately win a world championship,” Hosmer said. “To be able do that in Kansas City was amazing. To have that taste and understand what it means to a city and how much joy and excitement it brings to the people out there, it’s an experience I can sit here and talk about all day. It’s something that drives you as a player — to try to bring back as many as you can.

“You see how San Diego as a city is begging for a sports team to go in there and bring some excitement and some energy. I saw the direction the organization was going, and I saw the people at the top of the mountain who were leading the organization, and I bought into what they’re trying to do here.”

Hosmer wore No. 35 in Kansas City, but the Padres retired that jersey number in 1997 in honor of pitcher Randy Jones. He will wear No. 30 in San Diego as a tribute to his former Royals teammate Yordano Ventura, who died in a car crash in the Dominican Republic last year. Third-base coach Glenn Hoffman agreed to relinquish the number so Hosmer could have it.

“I told Glenn it would mean a lot to me if I could wear No. 30 and continue Yordano’s legacy,” Hosmer said. “Not only Yordano, but all those guys in Kansas City. We all shared good moments with him and obviously shared a really tough moment in his passing. It really meant a lot to me. Hoff was more than open to let me carry on that number. I told him I’ll wear it with pride each and every day.”

Hosmer described the free-agency process as “grueling.” He was briefly linked to the Boston Red Sox in November before they signed first baseman Mitch Moreland to a two-year deal. Amid speculation that the Royals might make a late play to keep him, Hosmer signed with the Padres three days before the team’s first full-squad workout.

Hosmer’s arrival will prompt first baseman Wil Myers to shift to the outfield, where he played previously in 2015. The Padres signed Myers to a six-year, $83 million contract extension last January, but co-owner Ron Fowler said Myers never embraced the role of “franchise face” and should be more in his comfort zone with Hosmer in the fold.

“We’re hoping Eric is that guy,” Fowler said. “Myers has a lot of great qualities, but he frankly does not want to be the leader in the clubhouse. That’s just not in his DNA. If there was a player who was more positive about us going after Eric than Myers, I don’t know who it would be.

“Eric will protect him in the lineup, first of all. And he’ll take more of a leadership position, which is more natural for him in the clubhouse than it was for Myers.”

Hosmer’s eight-year deal was an outlier in a difficult free-agent market. Milwaukee outfielder Lorenzo Cain, Boston slugger J.D. Martinez and Chicago Cubs pitcher Yu Darvish are the only other free agents who have signed contracts of five years or longer this offseason.

The Padres are looking to Hosmer to provide guidance for a pending wave of young talent. ESPN’s Keith Law recently ranked San Diego’s farm system as third-best in the game behind those of the Atlanta Braves and New York Yankees, although the bulk of the organization’s talent is at the lower levels of the minors.

“The organization is a volcano of hot talent lava,” said Scott Boras, Hosmer’s agent. “To turn that lava into major league rock is a hard thing to do. Eric Hosmer went through that in Kansas City. When you can have a young, veteran champion, I think your chances of guiding lava into rocks is pretty good.”

Hosmer has generated some debate in the analytics community. His defensive metrics are subpar, even though scouts speak positively about his skills around the first-base bag. He also has less than prototypical home run power at first base, and his 55.6 percent ground-ball rate in 2017 was the fourth highest among MLB hitters.

But the Padres were impressed enough by his range of attributes to commit to him through 2022 — and 2025 if he declines his opt out.

“We’re not looking for Eric to come in here and be Knute Rockne and deliver speeches from day one,” general manager A.J. Preller said. “It’s the things he shows daily: the passion for the game, the love for the game, the competitiveness, the intellect, the curious mind, wanting to get better. Those are the things that kept coming back from guys who played with him or against him. That’s why we were so convicted that he was the guy for us at this time.”

Hosmer has flourished in his limited exposure to Petco Park, logging a .441/.474/.765 slash line in 38 career at-bats at San Diego’s home park. He played at Petco in the 2016 All-Star Game and the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

“I think Petco Park likes me,” Hosmer said. “Every time I go there, it seems to work out for me.

“Before day games, you wake up and the weather is gorgeous outside and it makes you want to be out there. The city speaks for itself. The ballpark speaks for itself. I couldn’t think of a better place to go out and play baseball every day.”

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