The Brewers and free agent first baseman Rhys Hoskins are finalizing a two-year, $34MM guarantee that’ll allow him to opt out next winter, reports Jeff Passan of ESPN (X link). He is a client of the Boras Corporation.
Hoskins takes a modified pillow contract after missing the entire 2023 season. At the tail end of Spring Training, he tore the ACL in his left knee while retreating to the outfield grass to field a chopper. While he was able to take batting practice by the end of the season, he never quite made it back to the roster. Philadelphia suggested Hoskins may have been activated from the injured list had they advanced to the World Series.
With the Phils coming up a game short of the Fall Classic, the ACL tear marked an unfortunate end to a productive tenure at Citizens Bank Park. Hoskins seemed a potential candidate for the qualifying offer at the beginning of the offseason. The Phils opted against the QO, declaring they were moving Bryce Harper to first base permanently. That made clear Hoskins was headed elsewhere after nearly a decade in the organization.
The Phillies initially selected him in the fifth round of the 2014 draft. Despite the modest draft stock, he hit the ground running in pro ball. He posted huge minor league numbers, mashing his way to the big leagues in the second half of the 2017 campaign.
That excellent production on the farm presaged strong numbers against MLB pitching. Hoskins raked at a .259/.396/.618 clip with 18 home runs over his first 50 games. While he didn’t maintain that pace over any subsequent season, he has been a consistent middle-of-the-lineup presence in Philadelphia.
Hoskins hit between 27 and 34 home runs in his four full seasons between 2018-22. He was on a similar pace in the shortened season, connecting on 10 longballs in 41 games. He has paired that with a walk rate above 10% in every year of his career. That power and patience gives him a solid offensive floor, even if he hasn’t hit above .250 in any season since his rookie year.
Since 2018, Hoskins has posted a .241/.350/.483 batting line. He strikes out in roughly a quarter of his plate appearances. That’s slightly higher than the league average but hardly outlandish, particularly for a player who hits for the kind of power he does. Hoskins has destroyed left-handed pitching at a .250/.399/.522 clip in his career. His .240/.336/.482 slash versus same-handed arms isn’t quite as impressive but remains solidly above average.
The offense carries the overall profile. Hoskins doesn’t offer much as a baserunner. He has graded as a slightly below-average defender throughout his career. It’s unlikely his defense will improve as he’s into his 30s and working back from a significant knee injury.
That’s fine for the Brewers, who needed an offensive upgrade. Milwaukee ranked 17th in runs last season, a subpar figure for a team that plays its home games at hitter-friendly American Family Field. By measure of wRC+, which adjusts for park, Milwaukee ranked 24th in overall hitting production. That was the worst of any playoff team.
First base was particularly problematic. Milwaukee received a dismal .231/.292/.389 showing from the bat-first position. That led the Brew Crew to non-tender Rowdy Tellez. Milwaukee acquired Carlos Santana at the deadline to stabilize first base for the stretch run. The Brewers have remained in contact with Santana this winter, but they’ll instead jump on the opportunity for a more significant lineup upgrade.
The contract aligns with MLBTR’s prediction of two years and $36MM. A few priority rebound targets have landed a two-year guarantee with an opt-out in recent offseasons. That’s appealing for the player, who locks in more security than they’d have received on a straight one-year pact while still allowing them to get back to free agency after one season.
Hoskins’ deal nearly matches the two-year, $36MM pact which Michael Conforto signed with the Giants last winter after missing the ’22 season rehabbing from shoulder surgery. Players like Josh Bell (two years, $33MM) and Lucas Giolito (two years, $38.5MM) have signed similar pacts after terrible finishes to their respective platform seasons. This contract structure isn’t attainable for every bounceback candidate, but it’s one that higher-ceiling free agents of that ilk are increasingly able to secure.
The specific salary structure hasn’t been reported. If the deal guarantees Hoskins $17MM in each season, it’d push Milwaukee’s payroll projection around $122MM, as calculated by Roster Resource. That’s marginally above last year’s $119MM Opening Day mark. Milwaukee’s payroll slate remains manageable even with Hoskins joining Corbin Burnes and Willy Adames (each of whom will make more than $12MM in their final arbitration seasons) on the books.
If Hoskins picks up where he left off before the injury, he’d likely join Burnes and Adames on next year’s free agent market. As with Burnes and Adames, Hoskins would be a candidate for a qualifying offer if he exercises the opt-out. He remains eligible for the QO since Philadelphia opted against the offer this winter. Milwaukee doesn’t have to forfeit any draft picks to add him.
Pete Alonso, Paul Goldschmidt and Christian Walker could all join Hoskins in an interesting first base class next winter. The remaining options for teams this offseason isn’t as robust. Beyond outfielder/first baseman Cody Bellinger, the top first basemen still unsigned are Brandon Belt, Santana, Garrett Cooper and Joey Votto.
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