Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told reporters, including Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe, that Bryce Harper will play first base going forward. Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post adds that free agent Rhys Hoskins has been informed of the decision with the position player mix pretty set. Dombrowski added that the club sees Kyle Schwarber as its everyday designated hitter, per Todd Zolecki of MLB.com. Though Harper could conceivably split his time between first and the outfielder, Dombrowski says he wanted Harper to be “in a position where he would play one or the other,” per Scott Lauber of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Harper, 31, had just two appearances at first base in the first decade of his career, but recent circumstances forced a change. In May of 2022, he was diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. That meant he was unable to throw, though the issue didn’t prevent him from hitting. The Phils kept him in the designated hitter slot for the rest of that campaign as Harper’s excellence at the plate helped them reach the World Series.
After they were defeated by the Astros, Harper finally went under the knife, undergoing Tommy John surgery in November of last year. As he was working his way back to health, long-time first baseman Rhys Hoskins torn the ACL in his left knee during a Spring Training game, an ailment that eventually prevented him from appearing at any point in the 2023 season.
Harper went on to beat all projections for his post-surgery recovery and was able to be reinstated by early May, barely five months after his operation. He was limited to designated hitter duties initially but was eventually cleared to take the field. Since a first baseman is rarely required to throw at maximum effort, the club put him at that position as opposed to putting him back in his typical right field spot, which would have required more throws at maximum effort. The Phils used a combination of Alec Bohm, Darick Hall, Kody Clemens and Drew Ellis to cover the spot in the first half but that group largely ceded to Harper in the second half.
He made his first start at first base on July 21 and eventually made 36 appearances in total in the regular season, then stayed there for the club’s 13 playoff games. Advanced defensive metrics generally considered him to be around league average, though in a fairly small sample of work. Having Harper at that spot freed up the club to move Schwarber, who is considered a poor defender, from left field to DH on most nights. The Phils then split the outfield duties between Nick Castellanos, Brandon Marsh, Johan Rojas, Cristian Pache and Jake Cave.
After the season, it was an open question as to where Harper would be slotted going forward. By the time the 2024 campaign rolled around, he presumably would have been far enough from his surgery to head back to the grass. But with Schwarber and those five outfielders all still on the roster next year, that would have further crowded things out there, forcing the club to perhaps trade someone while also perhaps looking to external first base options.
But the club will stick with Harper at first, which doesn’t leave a space for Hoskins, who is now a free agent. It seems Dombrowski did him the courtesy of letting him know so that he can spend the winter looking elsewhere for his next gig. He hit 148 home runs for the Phillies from 2017 to 2022 but it seems his next homer will be hit in a different uniform. MLBTR recently ranked Hoskins #26 on our list of the Top 50 Free Agents, predicting a pillow contract of two years and $36MM.
This also could have ramifications for Bohm and the third base market. He hasn’t received strong grades for his glovework at the hot corner, which made the Phils a speculative fit to add a player there and move Bohm over to cover first, as he did when Hoskins and Harper were both unavailable. But if Harper is going to be implanted at first, it suggests the club feels fairly confident about Bohm at third. They could always sign someone like Matt Chapman and then make Bohm available in trades but the roster fit isn’t as clean with this development.
It would appear then that the club will be primarily focused on pitching for the rest of the winter, since the position player corps is considered to be in good shape. Aaron Nola is now a free agent and retaining him or finding someone else to replace him would seem to be the logical priority for the club in the months to come, though new developments can always change the calculus over the course of the offseason.