Phillies let Rhys Hoskins walk, giving Brewers chance to add slugger to their lineup


Rhys Hoskins didn’t have a hunch when Dave Dombrowski called him last November. Both the Phillies and their homegrown first baseman had talked for months about their mutual admiration. This was left unspoken: Everyone knew it would be difficult to extend the relationship. The path that led Dombrowski to call Hoskins and tell him the Phillies wouldn’t re-sign him started well before Bryce Harper made a full-time move to first base. Maybe the seeds were planted in March 2022 when the Phillies signed Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos to multiyear deals.

Along the way, there was a bat spike and a World Series and a torn ACL. The Phillies have not had abundant success in developing hitters over the last decade and, as it unfolded, there was no room for the one who became the most productive.

After Hoskins finalized a two-year, $34 million deal with the Milwaukee Brewers, he could appreciate the call from Dombrowski — no matter how disappointing it was.

“I’ve learned in this game it’s pretty easy to speculate on what can happen,” Hoskins said Monday on a Zoom call. “But almost always you’re pretty wrong. So, try not to go down that road and just kind of let whatever was going to happen, happen. Super grateful for the transparency and him being upfront with me about which way they were going to go. I was able to set the offseason off on the right foot because of that.”

Hoskins, who turns 31 in March, will hit in the middle of Milwaukee’s lineup and could split his time between first base and designated hitter. He said he’s followed a normal offseason strength program and though he expects to be “eased back in,” he does not anticipate having any limitations for 2024.

He’ll be about 11 months removed from surgery on his left knee once spring training games start at the end of February.

“I’ll be stoked to get on the field,” Hoskins said. “I’m pretty bored as a competitor and not having played in so long.”

Hoskins had sought a deal with some protections; his two-year contract includes an opt-out after 2024 that would allow him to return to the free-agent market. He’ll do that if he has a big season with the Brewers. He can stay in Milwaukee for 2025 on an $18 million salary.

The Phillies never entertained the idea of re-signing Hoskins because they were not certain how to fit all of the pieces. Even if Harper had returned to the outfield, there were concerns about how many games Hoskins could play at first base in 2024. The Phillies could have run a three-man rotation of Harper, Schwarber and Hoskins between left field, first base and designated hitter. But the club believed it was best to have Schwarber as a full-time DH with Harper entrenched at one position.

It was a tough decision because the Phillies know better than anyone how challenging it is to cultivate homegrown talent like Hoskins. This entire Phillies offseason has been about choosing one long-time star (Aaron Nola) and casting aside another (Hoskins) while maintaining the status quo everywhere else.

In Milwaukee, Hoskins represents the biggest acquisition for a team that had contemplated tearing apart its roster. The Brewers were shedding payroll earlier in the offseason but made an aggressive swing. Hoskins will be their fourth-highest-paid player in 2024.

The Brewers are known as a team adept at pitching and defense — but not slugging. Hoskins, for them, is a different type.

“Candidly, I wasn’t sure we were going to be able to access a player like him,” Milwaukee general manager Matt Arnold said. “I couldn’t be more excited to have this type of profile here because he fits so well. It’s just the type of player that we’ve needed.”

At times during the 2023 season, the Phillies missed Hoskins’ combination of right-handed power and patience. That showed — especially in the National League Championship Series. He was a clubhouse leader and a fan favorite.

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Rhys Hoskins hit at least 29 homers in each of the four full seasons he played in Philadelphia. (Rob Tringali / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

Had Hoskins played in 2023 and performed at his career norm, he would have been in line for one of the bigger paydays by a hitter this offseason.

“I heard so much about free agency and the privileges to get there, but it was I think just a bit different having not played in that so-called platform year,” Hoskins said. “Especially given the momentum that we were able to create in Philly. That was going to be an exciting year to be on a team, ready to win. But also for me personally. So, expectations just had to get brought down a little bit.”

The Phillies could have kept Schwarber in left field, moving Brandon Marsh back to a full-time job in center, while having Hoskins DH with Harper at first base. But they chose a little more athleticism; 23-year-old Johan Rojas is expected to play center with Marsh in left. Those are decisions that run counter to how the Phillies have built their roster in recent years.

The Phillies have had 15 homegrown hitters — players who were either drafted or signed as amateurs with the Phillies — accrue at least 1,000 plate appearances since 2013. Only three have an OPS+ above 100, which is the league average.

Hoskins was, by far, the best of the group during that snapshot in time. Alec Bohm and Bryson Stott have been regulars on winning Phillies teams; both have time to separate from the pack. They were first-round picks and can be considered, as of now, successful development stories.

Homegrown Hitters 2013-2023

Player

  

PA

  

HR

  

OPS

  

OPS+

  

César Hernández

3282

46

.733

97

Rhys Hoskins

2877

148

.846

125

Maikel Franco

2539

102

.733

93

Freddy Galvis

2360

54

.664

79

Alec Bohm

1839

44

.731

101

Ryan Howard

1830

82

.719

96

Chase Utley

1477

34

.750

108

Carlos Ruiz

1299

16

.675

88

Cody Asche

1287

31

.684

88

Jimmy Rollins

1275

23

.691

92

Domonic Brown

1256

42

.713

97

Scott Kingery

1127

30

.667

74

Cameron Rupp

1127

39

.705

88

Aaron Altherr

1120

36

.716

90

Bryson Stott

1106

25

.708

96

The organization’s current top prospects are two pitchers, Andrew Painter and Mick Abel. The hitting talent in the system is concentrated in the lower minors; Justin Crawford will likely spend 2024 at High-A Jersey Shore while Aidan Miller does his first full professional season at Low-A Clearwater. The Phillies have some athleticism up the middle in the lower minors. But they do not have a hitting prospect in the upper minors who could be expected to contribute in 2024. Even Gabriel Rincones Jr., who might be the best position-player prospect closest to the majors, has yet to play at Double A.

All of this just underscores how hard it is — at least how hard it’s been for the Phillies — to produce someone like Hoskins.

There is a lot he’ll miss.

“Being involved and seeing familiar faces like I have for the last six, seven years, you just create relationships with people,” Hoskins said. “And all of a sudden, those will be different. I’m sure it won’t be the last time I see a lot of those same people. I hope not. Just because I feel like I always will be able to call Philly home. But I’m excited for a new chapter and to revisit those memories when the time is right.”

That will be June 3 when the Brewers come to Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies sold more than 1,500 tickets to that game when single-game sales opened last week, MLB.com reported. It was an unusually high number.

“I’m sure it will be emotional,” Hoskins said. “I’m sure it will be weird. But I think at the end of the day — and I think Philly will be able to appreciate this — is that I hope the Brewers win.”

(Top photo of Hoskins hitting a home run in the 2022 National League Championship Series: Daniel Shirey / MLB Photos via Getty Images))





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