The free agent market is finally starting to move. Rhys Hoskins is headed to Milwaukee, finalizing a two-year, $34 million contract with an opt-out after the first year, per Scoop Czar Jeff Passan. You don’t have to squint to see the fit here. Milwaukee needs hitting, Hoskins needs a place to hit, and it’s always nice to feel wanted. The option effectively makes this a pillow contract for Hoskins, who ruptured his ACL in spring training and missed the entire 2023 season. (This seems like a good place to note that the deal is almost certainly still pending a physical.) If he proves that he can still hit like Rhys Hoskins, he can opt out and go after a bigger deal while he’s still a fresh-faced 31-year-old with the world at his feet, rather than a doddering, unemployable 32-year-old. If he needs another year to knock the rust off, well, I’ve heard great things about Milwaukee.
Hoskins ranked 20th on our Top 50 Free Agents. Ben Clemens estimated that he would receive a three-year contract for a total of $45 million, meaning that Hoskins fell short of the estimate in terms of years, but exceeded it in terms of average annual value. Michael Baumann did a lot of the legwork a couple weeks ago, so I’ll leave it to him to remind you of just how good a hitter Hoskins is:
The value that Hoskins brings is obvious. His power can be streaky on a game-to-game basis — a danger of being a three true outcome-heavy hitter — but in the aggregate, he’s one of the most consistent players in baseball. Hoskins is a career .242/.353/492 hitter, with a 13.5% walk rate and a 23.9% strikeout rate. That’s a career wRC+ of 126.
In four full seasons in the majors (discounting Hoskins’ 50-game rookie season and the 41 games he played in 2020), he’s never been worth more than 2.4 WAR, nor less than 2.0. His full-season career low in wRC+ is 112, while his full-season career high is 128. You can like or dislike the total package, but you know what you’re going to get.
You got that? This Hoskins guy hits the baseball. The Brewers could really use a guy who hits the baseball. The only real surprise about this deal is that it involved the Brewers spending money. It marks the first multi-year contract the team has given since 2021, when they signed Kolten Wong and Jackie Bradley Jr. to two-year deals. (Bradley’s contract was structured like Hoskins’, with one year and an opt-out, whereas Wong’s included a team option for a third year that was not picked up.)
A little over a year ago, I wrote about the trade that sent Hunter Renfroe from the Brewers to the Angels. Although it made sense from some angles, it was a rarity in that Milwaukee dealt away its best hitter. Not only did Renfroe’s 124 wRC+ lead the Brewers in 2022, it is the third best season at the plate by a qualified Milwaukee player over the past five years. Christian Yelich ran a 174 wRC+ in 2019, and William Contreras put up his own 124 wRC+ season in 2023. Since 2019, only two teams have had fewer qualified seasons with a wRC+ of 122 or better: the Tigers and the Marlins.
With that in mind, I started pulling up other stats from the past five years. Since 2019, Milwaukee’s 96 wRC+ has ranked 22nd in baseball. Its .406 slugging percentage ranks 21st. Hoskins has a Steamer projection of a 115 wRC+ for 2024, which is 11 points below his career mark. Over the past five years, just 10 Brewers have reached that mark during a season in which they recorded at least 400 plate appearances. Hoskins has hit at least 27 homers in every full season of his career. Only seven Brewers have reached that mark in the last five years.
If we just focus on first base, the upgrade Hoskins provides becomes even clearer. Since 2019, Milwaukee’s first basemen have run a 99 wRC+, 26th in baseball, while their 3.2 WAR (that’s 0.64 WAR per season), rank 23rd. Hoskins has averaged 2.8 WAR per 162 games. He could underperform and still be a real improvement.
There is plenty of reason to worry about a decline. Health is the immediate concern, though it should be reassuring that Hoskins had recovered well enough that the Phillies reportedly considered adding him to their postseason roster. But health just compounds the existing concerns about Hoskins’ defense. He fit perfectly into Philadelphia’s Dadaist interpretation of team defense, which was heavy on lumbering, bat-first sluggers and light on everything else. Still, while he has never shined defensively, it is not as if he’s incapable of playing the position. The big, scary -21.7 Def mark over on his player page came in 2018, when he spent nearly all his time in left field. Although he put up a -15 in 2022, DRS had him as a net positive and DRP had him right around average. Moreover, it’s not as if he could bring the Brewers down much further in that regard.
According to DRS, first basemen cost the Brewers an average of -1.8 runs per year over the past five seasons. For his career, Hoskins has been worth -2.3 per 162 games. OAA sees a slightly higher penalty, dinging Brewers first basemen 1.0 run per season compared to 3.6 for Hoskins. Still, that’s not exactly a big discrepancy. If Hoskins costs the team 2.6 runs on defense, matching his career-worst 112 wRC+ would still constitute a huge overall improvement.
It would be a real problem if Hoskins can’t hack it at first base anymore. However, over the past five years, Milwaukee’s designated hitters have a wRC+ of 83, fourth-worst in baseball. He wouldn’t have to hit much to be a major upgrade there, either.
There’s also the matter of personality. Hoskins is beloved in Philadelphia and was a leader in the clubhouse. It’s clear that his departure is due mainly to the fact that there’s no place to put him, especially with Bryce Harper playing first base. Although at times he was subjected to the wrath of the Philly Faithful, he was a homegrown player who created some thrilling moments, and many Phillies fans are sad to see him go.
This is a chance for Hoskins to make good while staying on a playoff contender, and it gives him one last shot at showing the free agent market that he can play first base, instead of getting relegated to DH. It’s also a move with little downside for the Brewers. They get to bring in a clubhouse guy and fan favorite with playoff experience, while also patching a major hole. Some things just make sense.