Coming up at some point in the next couple months, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak is going to have to make a decision about first base.
Rhys Hoskins just will not stop tearing up AAA pitching, batting .333/.432/.686 with a OPS of 1.118 that is far and away the best in the International League. The next closest player’s OPS is .948, by the way. The 24-year-old has 13 homers, 37 RBIs, 11 doubles and 2 triples, and shows the kind of plate discipline that a rare few in the organization possess.
But he’s not coming to the Majors anytime soon, and that’s because Tommy Joseph is batting .255/.316/.467 with 7 home runs and 22 RBIs, coming off a season in which he blasted 21 dingers in just 347 plate appearances. And those numbers don’t tell the whole story.
After a brutal month of April, Joseph has been one of baseball’s hottest hitters in May, hitting .329/.400/.671 with a 1.071 OPS, 6 home runs and 15 RBIs. Joseph is just 25 years old, one year older than Hoskins, so you can understand why the team isn’t about to just dump Joseph by the side of the road.
At some point, though, the Phillies are going to have to make a decision. There is no DH in the National League, neither of these guys can play a different position, and it’s clear Hoskins is Major League-ready. Klentak must decide which of these two players he wants to keep and which he wants to move.
If the Phils decide it is Joseph they want to put on the trade block, getting him to a new destination will not be easy. While he is cheap (he won’t be arbitration eligible until 2020) and is under team control for a long time (until 2023), Joseph’s overall numbers are decent, but not drool-worthy. Also, many teams have prospects in the minors that could play first base and may not need someone from the outside.
However, for one of the few teams not in included in that group, Joseph could be an interesting player for a team looking for a potential long-term answer at first base.
Of course, Joseph will need to continue to play in June and July the way he has in May. If he slumps, the trade market will dry up in a hurry. But, if he does maintain this current track, or something close to it, there are a few potential contenders who could look to upgrade at that position this July.
Los Angeles Angels
Albert Pujols is the DH, so he isn’t going anywhere, even though the Angels would love to be out from under that monstrosity of a contract. But the man currently manning first base is Luis Valbuena, who is batting .167/.286/.258 this season, with a wRC+ of 60. C.J. Cron was just sent down to AAA and, at 27, doesn’t appear to be the team’s long-term answer at the position. While the Angels are just 25-25, they are a mere two games out of the wild card, and you know they would love to get Mike Trout back to the postseason as soon as possible.
The big key will be getting something useful back from L.A. The Phils aren’t going to give Joseph away. Would they be willing to take a chance on a pitcher like Tyler Skaggs, a left-handed starter currently out 8-10 weeks with a strained oblique? Would the Angels give him up, even as part of a package? Although a deal might be hard to cobble together, given the Angels’ terrible farm system, they do seem to have the biggest need at this position.
The Astros may not need this upgrade, as they are currently running away from the rest of the AL West and have an offense that has scored the 7th-most runs in the Majors this year. But they haven’t gotten much production from Yulieski Gurriel, the young Cuban they signed to a five-year, $47.5 million contract this off-season. Gurriel has a wOBA of just .305, a wRC+ of 93, and an fWAR of 0.0 that ranks 24th out of 26 qualified MLB first basemen. And their designated hitter, Carlos Beltran, appears to be fading quickly. He is batting .234/.278/.373 in 169 PAs, with a -0.5 fWAR that is worst among qualified DHs.
If Houston wanted to make a small improvement, Joseph could be someone worth targeting at either one of those spots, although DH is more likely, given the financial commitment to Gurriel.
The Indians are the defending AL champs and, when all is said and done, will probably win the AL Central. However, they are just 24-21 and currently trail the Minnesota Twins by two games in the division. Carlos Santana, who is in the final year of his deal and whose 0.3 fWAR is tied for 19th-best among qualified first basemen, is hitting .230/.332/.410 this season with five homers and a wRC+ of 102, which is barely above league average.
If the Indians want a long-term solution to that position, Joseph would be a cheap alternative. Hey, the price is certainly right for that small-market team.
Are the Twins going to be buyers? They usually aren’t, and it’s hard to say if they’re still going to be in the mix by the time July rolls around. But they might be interested in a player like Joseph, who as we’ve said before, is going to be paid peanuts for the next few seasons.
Joe Mauer has held the position for a looooong time, and he’s having a typical Mauer season, batting .266/.338/.367 with an fWAR of 0.2 that is 22nd out of 26 qualified first basemen. However, Mauer has just one year left on his deal and, after 2018, the team will be free of him. They might like Joseph for the next couple years, as their top first base prospect, Lewin Diaz, is still a few years away.
New York Yankees
New York is fine at DH with Matt Holliday, but the first base situation is in a bit of flux. The team expected spring training stud Greg Bird to be the long-term solution at first base, but he’s missed most of this season with a variety of injuries, and hasn’t played consistently since 2015. Taking his place right now is Chris Carter, perhaps the worst 40-HR hitter in baseball history. He’s batting a scant .209/.305/.385 with just 4 dingers in 91 ABs this year, and if Joseph keeps performing, and Bird doesn’t get himself well, perhaps the revitalized Bronx Bombers could dump Carter and add Joseph to the mix.
A red-hot last few weeks by Texas has them back at .500, fighting with the Angels for second place in the division. And at this early stage of the season, they are also just two games out of the wild card spot, but have a huge black hole at first base.
Yes, they signed free agent Mike Napoli to a one-year deal with a team option for 2018, but it’s one they’re unlikely to pick up based on his MLB-worst -0.4 fWAR among first basemen and .193/.261/.422 slash line. Sure, he has 11 home runs, but with a wOBA of .285 and a wRC+ of 72, it’s clear he’s not getting the job done.
Joseph could be a cheap, long-term solution for Texas, but the team might already have one of those in-house. They could move Joey Gallo to first when Adrian Beltre is ready to return from the DL, too, and have some other options as well. This is not the most likely landing spot, to be sure.