The Padres and Cubs were in talks last summer about a trade that would have sent first baseman Eric Hosmer “and a highly regarded prospect” to Chicago, The Athletic’s Sahadev Sharma reports. The return on the Cubs’ end wasn’t mentioned, yet it likely could have been pretty minimal (i.e. a low-level prospect or a player to be named later), since the chief goal of the trade for San Diego would have been to get Hosmer’s contract off the books. However, since Anthony Rizzo also reportedly on the Padres’ trade radar, it is possible the two teams might have been discussing a swap of first basemen.
Hosmer was known to be available prior to the trade deadline, as the Padres were exploring ways to both lessen their luxury tax burdens in 2021 and in the future, and also create payroll space for some bigger-ticket additions. As it turned out, San Diego didn’t find a taker for Hosmer, and they also fell short of landing such targets as Rizzo, Max Scherzer and Jose Berrios prior to the deadline. While the Padres did acquire the likes of Adam Frazier and Daniel Hudson, that wasn’t enough to hold off a late-season collapse, as the Friars plummeted to a 79-83 record.
As well, the Padres also ended up exceeding the luxury tax threshold for the first time in club history. While final figures haven’t yet been released (and estimates from both Cot’s Baseball Contracts and Roster Resource actually had the Padres falling a bit short of the tax line), the expectation is that San Diego’s Competitive Balance Tax number did indeed top the $210MM mark. The penalty for a first-time payor is only a 20 percent surcharge on the overage, so since the Padres didn’t exceed the threshold by too much, their financial cost will be quite minimal. For instance, if they exceeded the CBT line by $2MM, the team would have a $400K tax bill.
Since the Padres are already projected to sit very close to the $210MM mark for their 2022 expenditures, a further penalty could be difficult to avoid, with the obvious caveat that the CBT system could be altered under the new collective bargaining agreement. In the short term, however, exceeding the luxury tax line has already caused some difficulties for the Padres’ offseason business. They would have to give up two 2022 draft picks (their second-highest and fifth-highest selections) and $1MM of international draft pool money in order to sign a free agent who rejected a qualifying offer, and San Diego has already reportedly shown interest in one such QO free agent in Nick Castellanos.
Assuming some form of the luxury tax continues to exist in the next CBA, even at a much higher threshold, the Padres would probably prefer to rid themselves of Hosmer’s contract just to lessen their chances of a repeater penalty. Hosmer has a tax number of $18MM per season (the average annual value of his eight-year, $144MM deal), even though his actual salary figures will drop on the back end of his deal. Hosmer has $59MM owed to him through the 2025 campaign, breaking down as $20MM in 2022, and then $13MM salaries in each of the 2023-25 seasons.
This contract wouldn’t be a problem if Hosmer was still hitting, and yet the veteran has batted only .264/.323/.415 (99 wRC+, 102 OPS+) over his four seasons in San Diego. Other than a strong performance over 156 plate appearances in the shortened 2020 season, Hosmer has been barely a replacement-level player with the Padres, and he may not even be a regular starting option going forward considering that his playing time was reduced amidst his struggles.
The Cubs were primarily focused on selling back in July, unloading such veteran talents as Rizzo, Kris Bryant, Javier Baez, Craig Kimbrel, Joc Pederson, and others. Plus, the Cubs got a jump on the salary cuts almost a year ago in another major deal with the Padres, as Yu Darvish was dealt to San Diego. All of these moves greatly reduced Chicago’s future salary commitments, and yet the recent acquisitions of Marcus Stroman and Wade Miley indicate that the Cubs aren’t planning a full rebuild. Despite Hosmer’s lack of recent production, the Cubs could see him as a change-of-scenery candidate, or possibly as a left-handed complement to Frank Schwindel for first base (and maybe DH) duties.
The real prize for Chicago would still be whatever prospect or prospects the Padres were to include in a Hosmer trade. While San Diego still has a strong farm system, their minor league depth has been sapped to some extent due to other deals, and some prospects that have now graduated to larger roles on the big league roster. In talks with the Rangers about a trade involving Hosmer and Joey Gallo last July, Padres outfield prospect Robert Hassell III was reportedly floated as a candidate to change teams, though it isn’t known if the Cubs would also be targeting Hassell.
It is worth noting that Hosmer himself also has some leverage in the form of a ten-team no-trade clause. The Cubs weren’t one of the ten teams on Hosmer’s 2021 list, and yet since he can change that list every year, he could very well adjust his no-trade protection to include the Cubs, Rangers, or any other club Hosmer suspects could be a potential trade partner. This doesn’t mean that Hosmer wouldn’t necessarily welcome a move away from the Padres, but he would at least give himself some measure of control over his future. Hosmer also gains full no-trade rights as a 10-and-5 player following the 2022 season, so this is the last year for the Padres to move Hosmer even somewhat freely.