The idea of the Philadelphia Phillies finding a way to move Rhys Hoskins back to his natural position of first base in 2019 has gained traction in recent weeks.
Last month, I penned a piece suggesting that despite his best attempts to transition to left field, Hoskins didn’t look long for the outfield. In the piece, I opined that to allow Hoskins to move back to his natural position of first base in 2019, the Phillies may have to consider trading Carlos Santana after just the first year of a lucrative three-year free-agent contract. Santana has been excellent in the month of September, but without a DH in the National League, first base may be the best option for Hoskins to play defensively. The idea gained more traction this past week when Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported that the Phillies have internally discussed the idea of trading Santana this offseason so that Hoskins could return to his natural position.
So what does Hoskins think?
The 25-year-old told the collective media, including Salisbury, that while he would enjoy playing first base regularly again, he’s happy playing at any position that allows him to hit:
“Of course, I would like to go back there,” he said after the game. “I’ve played that position forever.
“But do I want to go back there? I don’t care. I honestly don’t. I told Gabe (Kapler) this from the get-go. As long as I get to hit, I don’t care where I play. I really don’t.”
As Hoskins finishes up his first full season in the major leagues, quotes like this are becoming the norm for him. On one hand, even if he did have a preference on where he plays in the field, he’s probably not going to say it. But you genuinely get the feeling that regardless of where he’s asked to play, he’s going to work hard to be the best fielder he’s capable of, while understanding that his bat is his meal ticket. He actually gave a similar quote last Winter when I asked him about potentially batting No. 2 in Gabe Kapler’s lineup:
“I think as long as I get to step into the right hander’s batter’s box three or four times a game, I don’t really care where I hit – just to put it bluntly,” Hoskins said. “I’m open to anything, really. There’s a lot of information out there – when you say analytics, I think the layman’s term is just information.”
Of course, simply because the Phillies may have internally discussed trading Santana to allow Hoskins to move back to first base doesn’t mean a trade will actually take place. The 32-year-old is due just over $40 million of the next two seasons, so the Phillies would likely have to eat a chunk of his remaining contract to facilitate a deal. Santana also is a better fielder than Hoskins at first base and while he had hit into bad luck for much of the 2018 season, he is slashing .320/.404/.580 in September. He’s also one walk away from becoming the first Phillie to walk 100 times in a season since Pat Burrell in 2008. None of this is to say that the Phillies won’t trade Santana this offseason, just that Matt Klentak’s front-office will likely have to hold their noses while doing so because they’re obviously high on Santana. The same probably goes for Gabe Kapler and his coaching staff, as Santana is viewed as one of the best clubhouse presences in the sport.
But while the Phillies like Santana and Hoskins has shown a willingness to do what is best for the team, the 25-year-old playing in left field doesn’t appear to be what is best for the team. Not only has Hoskins graded out as the worst qualified left fielder defensively, but his -17.2 defensive WAR is the worst mark any player has posted in baseball in 2018. Hoskins is far from the only defensive problem on a Phillies team that has had a disastrous season in the field, but moving him back to first base may improve the team’s overall defense, even if Hoskins isn’t likely to grade out well defensively at any position.
Hoskins did start in left field in Sunday’s loss to the Miami Marlins, but only after starting the two previous games at first. With Hoskins at first base on Friday and Saturday, Santana started at third base. Though he’s held his own in a few recent starts at third base, it’s difficult to envision Santana being a full-time third baseman for the Phillies. Never mind that Santana graded out poorly in 2014 when playing over 200 innings at the hot corner for the Cleveland Indians, but Maikel Franco and J.P. Crawford figure to remain in the picture past 2018. With the possibility that the Phillies sign four-time All-Star shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado this offseason, it’s almost impossible to imagine Hoskins and Santana co-existing in the infield.
The first base conundrum will be just one of the many questions the Phillies are left to deal with in what is shaping up to be one of the most important offseasons in franchise history.
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