There’s been a fair amount of online speculation about the Cubs’ potential interest in former Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins, and it now looks like that connection is more than circumstantial. A few days after we addressed the idea, a report from Patrick Mooney and Sahadev Sharma of The Athletic cites league sources as saying the Cubs “view Hoskins as a good fit for their roster.” Hoskins provides pop, a solid plate approach, and postseason experience on what will probably be a one-year pillow contract.
The Cody Bellinger comps don’t end there, as the two also share Scott Boras as an agent. Bellinger reportedly declined multi-year offers elsewhere to sign with the Cubs because he and Boras felt Chicago provided an ideal opportunity for the former Rookie of the Year and MVP to rebuild his value. Boy howdy, did that work out well for Bellinger. It worked well for the Cubs too, as they benefited from a big rebound performance and will get at least a draft pick to show for it.
As noted in that earlier piece, Hoskins probably has a higher floor than Bellinger did because a knee reconstruction is far less dicey for a hitter than the lingering shoulder issues. Part of that is because Hoskins’ game is far less predicated on athleticism in the first place, which means his ceiling is lower than Bellinger’s. But if you subscribe to the notion that the Cubs are expected to swing at least one big trade to go with a big signing, they’ll need smaller commitments to round things out.
“Certainly, there’s potential for a pillow contract,” Boras said during his annual showcase at the GM Meetings “Rhys got a chance to really get ramped up, almost to be World Series-ready in Clearwater because the Phillies wanted to add him to their World Series roster. So he is way ahead of this conditioning thing and really very much back to full speed.”
Hoskins put up a .794 OPS with 30 homers, a 122 wRC+, and 2.3 fWAR in 2022 and can reasonably be expected to put up similar numbers as a 31-year-old looking to prove something. As such, he’s going to be seeking a situation that allows him to flourish so he ink a bigger deal in what could be his last shot at a long-term contract next winter.
The Cubs might have an advantage in that regard because of a recent coaching move, and I’m not talking about Craig Counsell. Just a few days before the bombshell managerial news, Sharma and Mooney reported that former hitting coach John Mallee was rejoining the big league staff after having served in that capacity for the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. In between his stints with the Cubs, Mallee served as the Phillies’ hitting coach for a while.
That saw him working with Hoskins, who at the time was a cerebral young hitter honing his plate approach and hitting strategy. Meghan Montemurro, now on the Cubs beat for the Tribune, had an excellent piece on that topic when she was covering the Phillies for The Athletic a few years ago. Additional hat-tip to Greg Zumach of North Side Bound for cluing me in to that article.
“He hits to a plan a lot, so he’s looking for a certain pitch in a certain location,” Mallee said. “He’s ready to hit from the first pitch on, and he’s patient enough to wait for it. His bat-to-ball skills, he can foul things off when he’s fooled and beaten and that prolongs the at-bat. A lot of times, he’ll miss his pitch and foul it off, and then he’ll get two strikes and he’ll battle and battle and battle. The pitcher will finally make a mistake and he’ll hit it.”
Kind of a lot’s happened since then, so it’s not like we’re talking about the same bond Counsell shares with bench coach Pat Murphy. Still, it’s the kind of connection that could make the difference for someone in Hoskins’ position. Depending on what happens with Christopher Morel, the Cubs will also have potential vacancies at both first base and DH.
I’m repeating myself a little bit here, but I really like the idea of adding Hoskins for a number of reasons. He’s been a very consistent offensive producer who eliminates the reliance on either a position shift or a rookie, but he doesn’t block Matt Mervis if the Cubs are actually going to give him more runway next season. Playing first would waste a good deal of Morel’s athleticism, so having someone else locked in there makes any added versatility gravy rather than mashed potatoes.
More than a few folks out there may advocate for Pete Alonso to be that everyday first baseman, but he’s going to be far pricier than Hoskins in terms of salary and he’d also cost prospects in a trade. Alonso is a Boras client now as well, so you can pretty much forget about the idea of extending him right away. Oh, there’s also the idea that the Mets are apparently serious about working out a deal to keep him in New York.
Signing Hoskins would allow Hoyer to address a need and clarify the rest of the offseason, even if only slightly. Plus it will only cost money and won’t really block anyone from the system. Yeah, this is a pairing that makes a whole lot of sense for both sides.
Ed. note: We still don’t know what Counsell’s staff will look like, but it stands to reason that Mallee will still be around since the hiring came after Hoyer had engaged Counsell. If Murphy ends up succeeding Counsell in Milwaukee rather than following him to Chicago, Mallee might be an option to take the bench coach role. Or he could serve in more of a strategic capacity now that Craig Driver is no longer under contract.