The Cubs will attempt to address both corner infield spots in some form or fashion over the next few months, even going so far as to have Christopher Morel play first base this winter. Everything pointed to him polishing his skills at third, but the club apparently sees more value in ignoring his arm strength than in having him learn to control it. Or maybe this isn’t a matter of trying to use Morel at first in the long run.
It’s entirely possible that the front office is trying to juice the slugger’s value as more than just a DH/utilityman, particularly if there’s a match with a team that needs a first baseman. That could be the Padres, who reportedly covet Morel and would like to more cheap control in exchange for Juan Soto. The Mets would need a first baseman/DH if they end up dealing Pete Alonso, which could happen despite leadership’s claims to the contrary.
Assuming a Soto deal fails to materialize and David Stearns is serious about keeping Alonso in a Mets uniform, I’m very skeptical about the Cubs feeling confident in Morel as a legit option at first for next season. Even if we’re just talking about having him as a platoon option with Matt Mervis, I think Jed Hoyer will be looking to further solidify the position. Enter Rhys Hoskins, who is a free agent after missing all of last season with the Phillies due to a torn ACL suffered in spring training.
Dave Dombrowski told reporters at the truncated GM Meetings that the plan is for Bryce Harper to play first base, adding that Kyle Schwarber is viewed as the everyday DH. That leaves no room for Hoskins, who last played left field in 2018 and had -19 defensive runs saved with -17 outs above average in that season. Between missing 2023, his positional limitation, and good-but-not-great-power, Hoskins could be looking at a situation similar to that of Cody Bellinger last season.
“There’s potential for a pillow contract,” agent Scott Boras told reporters on Wednesday. “The power of Rhys, his leadership, all those things are really demonstrated in a major market and on championship levels. I think Rhys’s Pieces fits all team puzzles.”
This wouldn’t be a case of the Cubs opting to sign Hoskins on a one-year deal instead of “loosening their belts” for Bellinger, though there is some correlation beyond just their shared representation. While Boras is better known for his puns and seeking mega-deals for his premium clients, he’s also very savvy when it comes to rebuilding value through short-term deals. That was the case with Bellinger and it makes sense for Hoskins at this point.
Given the way he performed this past season, it’s easy to forget how many people were strongly against the Bellinger signing due to his numbers over his last three years in LA. You could easily make the argument that Hoskins is actually a much lower risk due to his consistency prior to an injury that isn’t nearly as deleterious to a baseball player as a bum shoulder.
Rather than making this an either/or situation or even a contingency plan, any pursuit of Hoskins would be more about securing a little more pop with limited commitments in terms of cost and duration. He provides 30+ home run power from the right side and could either platoon with Mervis or serve as the DH should the Morel thing be for real. Just flip that last one if Morel doesn’t earn himself a spot on the field.
I know a lot of you are probably thinking of Trey Mancini right now, and for good reason. Hoskins will be exactly the same age at the start of next season as Mancini was last year (okay, actually one day younger) and they play the same spot(s). But while Mancini’s career average is 21 points higher (.263 to .242) and their strikeout rates are nearly identical (23.5% to 23.9%), Hoskins’ .250 ISO and 126 wRC+ blow Mancini (.185, .209) away. What’s more, Mancini has trended sharply downward since 2019 for obvious reasons.
Hoskins also boasts a 13.5% career walk rate, putting him 19th among all qualified players since he entered the league in 2017. Imagine having him in a lineup with Soto and Ian Happ. Unless, of course, you’re one of those weirdos who thinks Happ sucks.
I want to be very clear that this isn’t a move the Cubs would look at as a priority for the offseason. It is, however, the kind of deal they should be looking at to complement bigger signings or trades to improve the roster ahead of Craig Counsell‘s first campaign at the helm.