As the Philadelphia Phillies look to put the 2023 season and their failed bid to return to the World Series behind them, there are difficult decisions ahead for the team as it looks to gear back up for another postseason run in 2024.
One of those decisions will be what to do about first base — keep Bryce Harper there, or bring back Rhys Hoskins.
Hoskins signed a one-year, $12 million contract ahead of last season. In spring training, however, the Phillies lost their starting first baseman for the year when Hoskins went down with a torn ACL that ultimately led to surgery and a lengthy recovery.
Now, there's a real possibility that the 30-year-old, who threw out the first pitch ahead of Game 1 of the National League Wild Card Series, won't suit up for the Phillies again.
Following the World Series, Hoskins will be a free agent. While it's clear the homegrown talent wants to remain in Philly, there are signs management is ready to move on.
Bryce Harper steps up at first base in Rhys Hoskins' absence
After the Phillies started the year off by mostly relying on a combination of Darick Hall, Kody Clemens and Alec Bohm at first base, the team got a boost from another injured player making his return to the diamond.
Harper made history as the fastest MLB player to return from Tommy John surgery, making it back to the batter's box 160 days after the procedure, playing in the May 2 game against the Los Angeles Dodgers as the designated hitter.
The right fielder, who wasn't cleared to throw from the outfield following his elbow surgery, offered to learn to play first to expedite his return to the field and fill a hole for the team.
When asked about Harper's willingness to change positions at the time, Hoskins said the following, according to Anthony Castrovince of MLB.com: "He's a team guy. It's a need for the team, so he's just trying to do what he can to put the team in the best position to win. You don't normally see guys do this halfway through their career, let alone a future Hall of Famer."
On July 21, Harper made his debut at first base against the Cleveland Guardians. It only took a few innings to get proof that he was fully committed to the new position:
His offense didn't suffer because of the new role. He finished the 2023 regular season hitting .293 with 21 home runs and 72 RBI in 126 games. In the field, he committed one error in 36 games at first. In comparison, Hoskins had 12 errors in 151 regular-season games last year.
In 2022, Hoskins hit .246 with 30 home runs and 79 RBI. Overall, in his six seasons in the big leagues — all with the Phillies — he has a .242 batting average, 148 home runs and 405 RBI. In 2022, the first baseman got his first shot at postseason baseball, and he delivered some memorable plate appearances:
While his .159 overall average left something to be desired, he came through clutch for the club in Games 4 and 5 of the NLCS to help send his team to the World Series for the first time since 2009:
Alas, with the team not advancing to the World Series, there was no opportunity to see Hoskins on the field in the 2023 postseason. But that doesn't mean the first baseman wasn't in the dugout, cheering his teammates on:
Now it appears Hoskins' future is contingent on the decision of one of those teammates.
Dave Dombrowski looking to Harper to help decide first base
Todd Zolecki of MLB.com relayed the thoughts of president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski from the end-of-season press conference: "We need to sit down with Bryce and ask him what his preference is and sit down with a heart-to-heart on what he wants to do. I don't know what he's going to do at this time. It is something we'll have to do relatively soon because we'll have to know what types of moves we're going to make."
When the Phillies originally decided to try Harper at first base, one of the biggest reasons was to improve their defense in the outfield. With Harper at first, the team was able to move left fielder Kyle Schwarber to DH and use a combination of Brandon Marsh, Johan Rojas, Cristian Pache and Nick Castellanos in the outfield.
Depending on what the team decides to do with Pache and Rojas, the Phillies might be overloaded in the outfield again heading into next year, meaning they could keep Harper out of right field and at first base.
Ahead of the NLCS, Bryce was asked about his future if Hoskins returns and said the following to the media: "I expect him to go back to first base and me go to the outfield and play out there in some capacity. But I don't mind giving them the option, even if he does come back, if Rhys needs a day off, or giving them the option to put me at first base and them knowing, 'Hey, we can put him there at any point and he'll be fine.'"
After the season came to a close with Tuesday's 4-2 loss to the Diamondbacks, Hoskins spoke about the upcoming decision and reiterated what his hopes are: "I would love to be back here. This is a team that has a lot of fun. ... I've grown up here, you know. I've learned a lot of things about life here. I've learned a lot of things about baseball here. And that's not something I take lightly."
Manager Rob Thomson maybe said it best when talking about pending free agents Aaron Nola and Hoskins:
The Phillies are coming off a season in which they had the fifth-highest payroll in the league, at $245.4 million, according to Spotrac. There are no signs of the team slowing down its spending to get another ring, but Dombrowski wouldn't say if the Phillies were going to offer Hoskins a qualifying offer. The qualifying offer should come in around $20.5 million for the year, according to Thomas Harrigan of MLB.com.
As of now, it appears a lot of their offseason strategy will hinge on whether or not Harper wants to return to the outfield or stay at first base.
If the team re-signs Hoskins, it's expected that he would need to work toward being an every-day first baseman following the ACL surgery. If the Phillies go the route of a platoon at first between Harper and Hoskins, it'll mean Schwarber is playing more in the outfield, but they'll be able to retain some reliable power from the right side of the plate with Hoskins.
The Phillies will have until five days after the World Series to decide if they want to extend qualifying offers, so fans will have to wait a little longer to see whether or not Hoskins fits into their future plans.