Eric Hosmer may be the offseason's most interesting free agent, simply because he might be the player with the future that's most difficult to predict.
In the last six seasons, three would be considered to be strong years (2013, '15, '17). He's won four Gold Glove Awards, yet most advanced defensive metrics don't consider him elite. Hosmer has a reputation as a winner with a strong clubhouse presence, yet when the Royals won it all in 2015, he hit just .212/.236/.288 that October. And in a world where hitters are trying to elevate, he had one of the highest ground-ball rates in the game.
But Hosmer has youth on his side (compared to most free agents), having only turned 28 in October, and he's coming off what's without question the best year of his career, a strong .318/.385/.498 season. Someone's going to give him a long-term deal, but who? With Carlos Santana, Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Yonder Alonso and Mitch Moreland also out there, there's no shortage of first basemen on the market.
Still, he's going to land somewhere. As we did last year with Jose Bautista and others, let's figure out where -- this time, counting down from 30 to 1.
Video: ARI@KC: Hosmer gets loud ovation, belts solo shot
The Teams With a Star First Baseman
Don't overthink the individual numbering within any group here, because they don't matter. This group, with Anthony Rizzo, Paul Goldschmidt, Joey Votto, Freddie Freeman, and Cody Bellinger, comprises the teams who already have a first baseman they're extremely happy with. And yes, we're including Miguel Cabrera here, despite a down year by his standards; one poor season doesn't make him replaceable, and the rebuilding Tigers aren't in position to upgrade upon him right now anyway.
Video: KC@DET: Hosmer skies a two-run homer to left-center
The Teams With a Good Enough First Baseman
21. White Sox
20. Blue Jays
There's a wide variety of hitters in this group, from "solid veterans" like Joe Mauer and Jose Abreu to "big contracts" like Chris Davis and Ryan Zimmerman to "2017 breakouts" like Eric Thames and Justin Smoak to "lefty power bats" in Justin Bour and Joey Gallo.
These are where your Brandon Belts and Wil Myers live, in the zone where Hosmer might or might not be an upgrade in certain situations -- Bour, for example, just put up a .902 OPS, better than Hosmer's .882 -- but contractual or roster concerns make a serious pursuit unlikely. Could the Rangers, for example, sign Hosmer and push Gallo to the outfield and/or then to third base when Adrian Beltre retires? Sure. Does it take priority over their clear need for starting pitching? Probably not.
Video: STL@KC: Hosmer belts a solo home run to left field
The Teams With Young First Basemen Of the Future
Is Hosmer better than Josh Bell, Rhys Hoskins, or Matt Olson? Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, it's hard to see the Pirates, Phillies, or A's getting into the Hosmer sweepstakes, based on their payrolls and other needs.
The Team With A Young First Baseman Of the Future, But Who Are Also the Yankees
We're splitting the Yanks out here because they're a perfect fit in so many ways, from the lefty-friendly nature of their ballpark to the fact that nearly $60 million worth of CC Sabathia, Alex Rodriguez, and Matt Holliday are off their books to the fact their 2017 first basemen, primarily Chris Carter but also Chase Headley, Greg Bird, Ji-Man Choi, Garrett Cooper and others, hit just .244/.317/.444.
Yet there's a strong case to be made not to give up on Bird, who hit a strong .261/.343/.529 in 178 plate appearances as a rookie in 2015, then missed all of '16 and most of '17 due to injury. He remains unproven, yet did hit .253/.316/.575 with eight homers in 98 plate appearances after returning from surgery on Aug. 26, then had a big postseason, hitting .244/.426/.512 with three October homers.
Video: Hosmer wins his first career AL Silver Slugger award
The Teams Hosmer Could Improve, But Who May Not Be After Him
In this group, Hosmer would represent an on-field upgrade over the incumbent, yet for various reasons, it's difficult to see it actually happening. The Mariners just acquired Ryon Healy from the A's last week to be their primary first baseman, and the Mets seem more interested in an outfielder/first base type who can provide insurance for Dominic Smith, rather than replacing him outright.
The Indians still maintain hope that Santana will return after declining a Qualifying Offer, but if he doesn't, one of the other first basemen on the market -- like Duda or Morrison -- seems a more likely fit to share time at first and DH with Edwin Encarnacion, given they won't require the same kind of long-term commitment that Hosmer will, and Lonnie Chisenhall has experience there too. Similarly, the Rays are more likely to stick with Brad Miller or a second-level free agent while waiting for prospect Jake Bauers than to go into the Hosmer level of contract.
In Anaheim, it's not so much that Hosmer isn't better than the group of Albert Pujols, C.J. Cron, Jefry Marte, and Luis Valbuena -- he is -- as it is that the Angels have larger needs at third base and the mound.
The Teams Who Could Use A Bat And Could Shift Their Incumbent First Baseman
With Mark Reynolds a free agent, the Rockies first base depth chart consists of Ian Desmond, who had a disappointing first year in Denver (.274/.326/.375, 7 homers) and 23-year-old rookie Ryan McMahon. Each can play other positions, and Desmond probably profiles best as a flexible infielder/outfielder. While this feels unlikely, it was clear last summer Colorado needed to add a bat, and it's still true, with Reynolds, Carlos Gonzalez, and Jonathan Lucroy all free agents. If the Rockies want to make a splash around a promising young pitching staff, this is how you do it.
We know the Cardinals are trying to improve their offense, because they've made it extremely clear in how aggressive they've been in trying to get Giancarlo Stanton. If they don't get Miami's slugger, then a possible Plan B is to flip the versatile Matt Carpenter back to third base, where he's started over 400 games, and turn Jedd Gyorko back into the flexible infield backup he profiles best as.
The Most Obvious Free Agent Fit
Video: Feinsand on the missing ingredient for the Red Sox
2. Red Sox
No other contender has such a clear need, with Moreland off to free agency, Hanley Ramirez more of a DH and Sam Travis still unproven. No other contender needs power as badly, as Boston finished last in the American League in home runs, and the Pesky Pole is always appealing for lefty hitters. Is this so obvious that it can't actually happen? The one roadblock here is the Red Sox may prefer to sign J.D. Martinez or trade for Stanton, and fill first base in another way.
The Best Fit of All
If there's 28 imperfect fits, and only one new clearly good free agent fit, then perhaps the strongest fit of all is… right back where Hosmer started. Kansas City has long known that with Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, and Mike Moustakas all hitting free agency this year (along with since-departed relievers Wade Davis and Greg Holland), it would lose the core of its 2015 World Series championship team. But the club also indicated it would like to retain at least one, and Hosmer might just be the best fit, for all the reasons laid out here and more. It's unlikely, after all, that Brandon Moss is the everyday first baseman in 2018.
Mike Petriello is an analyst for MLB.com and the host of the Statcast podcast. He has previously written for ESPN Insider and FanGraphs.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.