The Tommy Joseph story is a great one.
A much ballyhooed catching prospect in the San Francisco Giants organization, Joseph came to the Phillies as the main piece in the deal that sent Hunter Pence out west in the middle of the 2012 season. He was a power hitting backstop, and those things don’t grow on trees.
But as has been well documented, Joseph suffered a series of concussions behind the plate, necessitating a move to first base. He became a non-prospect as a result, an afterthought, just another body in the minor league organization with no Major League future.
That was until he went on an offensive rampage at AAA Lehigh Valley in 2016, opening the eyes of everyone in the organization. He earned a call-up to the Phils in May of that year and slugged 21 home runs in just 347 plate appearances, good enough to earn the starting first base job heading into 2017.
It was a terrific, feel-good story. Joseph had overcome a lot and, after years of toil and pain, had realized his dream. He was an everyday player in the Majors.
It’s hard not to root for a guy like that. Everyone wants feel-good stories to have a happy ending. Unfortunately for Joseph, last season proved that ending may not be as joyous as we had hoped.
Look, there’s no good way to put this. Tommy Joseph was the worst everyday first baseman in baseball last year. It’s just that simple. Among MLB’s 28 qualified first basemen, Joseph’s fWAR was far and away the worst in baseball, at -1.1. The next-closest was Miguel Cabrera, at -0.2, and every other first basemen in baseball had an fWAR in positive territory.
Joseph played 142 games and, in 533 plate appearances, hit .240/.289/.432, with a wOBA of .305 and a wRC+ of 85. Yes, he hit 22 home runs, but hitting 20+ dingers in a season is no longer the great accomplishment it once was. Last season, out 144 qualified Major Leaguers, Joseph’s 22 bombs were tied for 77th-most. He also played defense that was far below replacement level, which contributed to his awful WAR totals.
As the calendar flipped to July, it became apparent that Joseph was not going to be the team’s long-term answer at first, that the uber-talented Rhys Hoskins was the man for the job. But the team kept running Joseph out there through the Trade Deadline in the hopes he would get hot and some other team would be willing to deal something for him.
It didn’t happen. And given his season-ending numbers, it’s hard to see him garnering any interest on the trade market this winter either, which leaves his future with the team in flux. After all, the first base job will either belong to Hoskins in 2018, or a free agent signee like Carlos Santana, with Hoskins moving to the outfield.
Could Joseph come back as the team’s back-up first baseman? It’s possible if the team signs a left-handed hitter to play first and Hoskins moves to left field. And it’s important to note how helpful Joseph was at the end of the year, when he was riding the bench and Hoskins was getting the majority of the playing time. His team-first attitude showed what a solid guy he is.
But if that doesn’t happen, Joseph could be looking at a return trip to Lehigh Valley in 2018, or he could be DFA’d by the team, which would certainly be a massive disappointment for him.
Nevertheless, the Phillies are moving forward with their rebuild, and it’s clear the 26-year-old is not going to be a part of it.
It’s the right move, but a bit sad nonetheless.