First baseman Rhys Hoskins has been on the Cubs’ radar for much of the offseason, and Jon Morosi of MLB.com tweets that the two sides have remained in contact throughout the winter and discussed both one-year and multi-year proposals.
Word of continued interest in Hoskins comes not long after USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported that the Cubs’ optimism about their chances of landing Shohei Ohtani had “significantly waned.” Perhaps the timing is sheer coincidence, but it also wouldn’t be a surprise for the Cubs to begin exploring contingency plans more earnestly if they indeed believe they’ve fallen behind in their efforts to lure Ohtani to Wrigley Field.
Hoskins, 31 in March, is a logical fit for a Cubs roster that lacks clearly defined options at both first base and designated hitter. Young slugger Christopher Morel is expected to get some reps at first base, but the 24-year-old has to this point in his big league career fanned in just shy of 32% of his plate appearances, making it hard to bank on him as a productive option moving forward — impressive as his power output may be. There’s also the possibility that Morel himself could be part of a trade package to address other needs on the roster; president of baseball ops Jed Hoyer acknowledged when explaining that Morel was likely to see some time at first base that Morel is blocked at his best position (second base) on the Cubs’ roster but “another team might be able to put him there.”
The Cubs also have 32-year-old slugger Patrick Wisdom in both the first base and designated hitter mix, but Wisdom has fanned at a jarring 35.2% clip over the past two seasons while hitting .206/.295/453 in 836 plate appearances. He’s slugged 48 homers in that time, to his credit, but the bulk of Wisdom’s damage has come against left-handed pitching and he could be viewed as more of a part-time player as a result.
Hoskins missed the 2023 season after suffering a torn ACL in spring training. He was a sensible qualifying offer candidate all the same, given his track record, but the Phillies opted not to make the QO and announced early in the offseason that Bryce Harper would be moving to first base on a regular basis. With Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos both also on the roster and in need of DH time, that all but closed the door on a reunion with Hoskins, who’d been the Phillies’ primary first baseman since 2017 (save for a one-year dalliance into left field that did not yield good results).
In parts of six big league seasons, Hoskins is a .242/.353/.493 hitter with 148 home runs. He’s walked at a stout 13.5% clip, and while his 23.9% strikeout rate is worse than average, it’s not that far north of this past season’s 22.7% leaguewide mark. He’s hit between .245 and .247 in four of his past five seasons, with OBPs ranging from .332 to .354 and slugging percentages sitting between .462 and .530. Broadly speaking, even though Hoskins hits for a fairly pedestrian average, his robust walk rate and plus power have made him an above-average performer with the bat. He’s typically graded as a below-average defender at first base but not a complete liability by any means.
That the Cubs and Hoskins have described various permutations of a potential structure shouldn’t come as a surprise. He’s a clear candidate for the conventional one-year pillow contract that so many prominent free agents have taken on the heels of injury-ruined seasons over the years. At the same time, it’s become increasingly common for players to secure two-year pacts wherein the second season is a player option. Such structures might’ve once been reserved for the game’s truly premier players, but we’ve now reached a point where even relievers (e.g. Emilio Pagan), swingmen and back-end starters (e.g. Nick Martinez, Ross Stripling, Sean Manaea) have landed such opportunities.
Agent Scott Boras, who represents Hoskins, has negotiated two-year deals with opt-outs for the aforementioned Martinez and Manaea, in addition to Carlos Rodon and perhaps most relevant to Hoskins, Michael Conforto. Like Hoskins, Conforto missed an entire season due to injury (shoulder surgery), but he nonetheless inked a two-year, $36MM deal with the Giants that allowed him to opt out this winter if he chose. The opt-out was contingent on Conforto reaching 350 plate appearances, which he did, though the former All-Star wound up staying put after an unspectacular first year in San Francisco.
That type of structure could well hold appeal to Hoskins. We at MLBTR placed him 26th on our annual ranking of the game’s top 50 free agents, pegging him for that exact same contract structure signed by Conforto.