Rhys Hoskins is active on social media. He tweets about the Eagles and pop culture. He’s good with emojis and hashtags. Oh, and he keeps tabs on all the offseason rumors throughout baseball.
So, will the Phillies wind up with Bryce Harper or Manny Machado?
“I have a gut feeling that we’ll get one of them,” Hoskins said.
Hoskins has a vested interest, of course. He’s excited that the Phillies are chasing Harper and Machado because either of the marquee free agents would be a heavyweight tag-team partner in the middle of the order. But as an emerging star who isn’t eligible for free agency for another five years, he’s equally disappointed to see more than 100 players still unsigned with pitchers and catchers set to report to spring training in three weeks.
On that first point, Hoskins said he isn’t sure from where his confidence stems. He claims to neither be involved in the courtship of either player or to have insider information, even though he and Harper are both represented by agent Scott Boras.
“Adding a name like one of these two guys would add more credibility to what we’ve already done this offseason and maybe some fear within the division,” Hoskins said. “It’s exciting to be in the conversation. It gives us confidence that the front office believes we’re ready to contend for a championship. I don’t think if they didn’t think that that we would be thrown in these conversations.”
Across the Phillies clubhouse, ace Aaron Nola expressed a similarly hopeful sentiment. He and Hoskins were in town for the team’s winter caravan.
The Phillies, after all, hosted Machado last month for five hours at Citizens Bank Park and took him to dinner. Ten days ago, owner John Middleton led a contingent of team officials to Las Vegas to sit down with Harper for a meeting that, by all accounts, turned out well. The notion of Machado playing third base or Harper in right field for the Phillies on Opening Day no longer seems like a fantasy.
"I think we'll land one of 'em," Nola said. "But it's out of my hands. I don't make that decision. But if we could get either one, it'd be good."
To borrow the phrase that general manager Matt Klentak has repeated all winter, signing Harper or Machado -- 26-year-old megastars who are less than a full year older than Hoskins and have already reached free agency -- would “move the needle” in the direction of 90 wins more than any of the Phillies' other offseason additions. And the optimism of Hoskins and Nola likely stems from the financial flexibility that the Phillies possess. They have more money to spend than any team that has been linked with either player, and by all accounts, Middleton remains motivated to spend it.
That's usually a winning combination in free-agent bidding.
But that leads to the other topic that Hoskins candidly discussed Tuesday. For the second consecutive offseason, the market for free agents has evolved at a glacial pace. A year ago, top free agents Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez and Jake Arrieta didn’t sign until Feb. 13, Feb. 18, Feb. 26 and March 12, respectively, and in some cases for far less money or fewer years than they initially desired.
While some agents have grumbled about collusion among teams, fans are growing impatient and frustrated with months upon months of rumors. Like so much about baseball, free agency drags on endlessly.
Perhaps a deadline for players and teams to reach agreements would help lift the gridlock and spur more deals for free agents? Don't tell that to players, who must survive six years in the majors to earn the right to test their value on the open market, or teams that seem to believe bargains can be found by waiting until later in the offseason.
"It's been hard to watch," Hoskins said. "I think free agents have to do their due diligence in waiting out the market and competing for what they think they're valued at, and that's how it's been as long as I can remember. But it's a little bit weird and concerning that it's changed so drastically and so quickly.
"Us players, we want the best competition. It's frustrating to watch that some of the best players in our game are not being sought after as such. There's something like 100 free agents left and we're less than a month away from pitchers and catchers reporting. Some of those guys not being on the field is going to hurt the competition in the game. Teams owe that to fans to put a good product out on the field, and we want that as players. We want to compete against the best."
But if it means having Harper or Machado on his side, Hoskins is willing to wait.
"These are two generational talents, obviously really good at what they do," Hoskins said. "They're exciting players and the game needs exciting players like that. Obviously we hope that at least one of them ends up here."
With an arbitration hearing looming next month, Nola said he’s focused for now on year-to-year contracts rather than a multiyear extension. “I haven’t thought about that,” he said. “I’m just worried about this year. [Free agency] is a couple years away.”