The Philadelphia Phillies announced they have come to an agreement with Jeff Hoffman and have avoided salary arbitration with a one-year deal worth $2.2 million for the 2024 season, as reported by Matt Gelb of The Athletic.
Hoffman was a key piece of the Phillies bullpen in 2023 and was utilized as a trusted arm at the back end of games in playoffs. He clearly earned more responsibility and trust from Rob Thomson as the season progressed and as he continued to deliver. For the year, he ended 2023 with a 2.41 ERA, 2.57 FIP, and 0.917 WHIP over 52 1/3 innings.
He was also brilliant in the postseason, pitching to a 1-1 record with a 2.57 ERA and 0.86 WHIP across seven innings, carried by his 56.3 percent groundball rate, 33.3 percent strikeout rate, and minuscule 3.7 percent walk rate.
It was, by far and away, the best season of the 31-year-old's eight-year career, and it came after not even being with the team on Opening Day. Hoffman signed with the Phillies as a free agent on March 31 and made his team debut on May 6, which was game 34 of the season. He was a diamond in the rough that the Phillies found and Caleb Cotham polished off.
Now that the team has avoided arbitration with the right-handed pitcher, the question turns to whether they should extend him to keep him in Philly for longer.
Should the Phillies extend Hoffman past 2024?
To answer that question, it may be prudent to look at Hoffman’s history in the big leagues. As mentioned before, he has been in the league for eight years on three different teams. He made his MLB debut in 2016 with the Colorado Rockies and spent five years there before jumping to the Cincinnati Reds where he then spent two seasons. Finally, after not latching on with a team, the Phillies signed him for the 2023 season.
According to FanGraphs, his WAR in 2023 was a terrific career-high 1.5, topping his 1.1 WAR back in 2017 while he was still with the Rockies. In the four years prior to his stellar 2023 season, he registered a -0.5 in 2019, 0.1 in 2020, and 0.2 in both 2021 and 2022.
Digging in deeper, Hoffman kept the ball in the yard, allowing a HR/FB ratio of 6.7 percent in 2023 compared to 2019, 2020, and 2021, when it was 23.6 percent, 10.7 percent, and 15.2 percent, respectively. His walks were also at their lowest in 2023, with a career-best 3.27 BB/9.
All of these numbers tell the story of why Hoffman’s 2023 was such a successful year. Keeping runners off base and balls in the yard bodes well for any relief pitcher.
It's very plausible that the veteran pitcher came to Philadelphia and found a connection with pitching coach Caleb Cotham to get every ounce of talent out and put it to work. It's also possible that he flipped a switch, and the pitcher we saw in 2023 is the new normal for Hoffman, and it will be replicated for many seasons to come.
But it could also be true that Hoffman just had a great year where he found a good rhythm for a few months and could easily revert back to the level he pitched at for the seven years before this season.
A short-term extension is the way to go with Hoffman
Generally speaking, giving non-closers big money for a long term deal might not be the optimal way for president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski to a construct this Phillies roster and the bullpen.
Whether they sign Hoffman to an extension should really depend on what the 31-year-old is looking for in terms of years and total dollars. It would make sense to lock him in for a two-year deal in the $6-$8 million range, giving him an AAV of $3-$4 million. This would put him in the same tier as relievers like fellow Phillie Seranthony Domínguez (two years, $7.25 million), Chad Green (two years, $8.5 million), and Ryan Stanek (one year, $3.6 million).
Hoffman has proven to be an asset to this team and clearly has Rob Thomson's trust. The Phillies have been great at finding serviceable, less expensive relief pitchers that they are able to develop into late-inning arms. The team should leverage their track record of success strategically and also hold on to the pitchers they develop on team-friendly and risk-averse contracts.
Most fans would love to see Hoffman stick around past 2024, just as long as it's on the right deal.