On an afternoon in April, Royals manager Ned Yost summoned a collection of team leaders and pending free agents into his office for a heart-to-heart chat. His team was mired in a prolonged slump. The future was hazy and uncertain. Yost had plenty on his mind.
But at the top, he had one important question: Were the players worried about their contract status?
In the middle of the discussion was Eric Hosmer, the first baseman and franchise pillar who had carried a .195 batting average and one homer into the 21st game of the season. Hosmer had spent three weeks rolling ground balls to second base and hitting into double plays. As he sat in the manager's office, he looked at Yost and offered a simple answer: No.
"He wasn't (ticked) about his numbers," Yost says. "He was (ticked) because he felt like he should be helping the team more and he wasn't."
Four months later, Hosmer has turned the worst start of his career into the finest season of his life, shaking off a brutal April and lugging a wounded team toward the fringes of postseason contention. He is batting .328 with 24 homers and a career-high .394 on-base percentage after a 4-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday afternoon. He is also on pace for career highs in homers, walks, slugging percentage and OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging). And he remains a mature and stabilizing presence in the clubhouse while having, by most measures, the best season by a Royals hitter in more than a decade.
"He's a guy that you check all the boxes," Yost says. "And it's very rare that you come across a guy like that."
Hosmer, of course, will be a free agent in the offseason. This has not changed. His performance could leave him commanding a long-term contract that comes with nine figures. But if this is the end -- if these are the final images of Hosmer in a Royals uniform -- he is showing up in the most crucial moments.
"I never lost confidence in what I do," Hosmer says.
Hosmer says this in the way he says most things -- self-assured and poised, careful and genial. He believes this is the best offensive season of his career, yet that is less a pronouncement and more a statement of undisputed fact. The numbers back it up.
On Tuesday, he began the day ranked second in the American League in batting average, behind Houston's Jose Altuve, and sixth in OPS. Since May 1, Hosmer has batted .348 with a .414 on-base percentage and .560 slugging percentage in 120 games.