The prevailing opinion as we tick, tick, tick toward Major League Baseball's trade deadline Monday is that the Phillies will be unable to deal first baseman Tommy Joseph, which will likely create a dilemma for manager Pete Mackanin in the near future.
All indications are that Rhys Hoskins' minor-league marination is just about complete. The 24-year-old first baseman hit another home run for triple-A Lehigh Valley on Wednesday night, giving him four in his last six games and an organization-high 24 for the season. Tack on the 38 dingers he hit last season at double-A Reading and it obviously is time to see what he can do in the big show.
Mackanin is on record as saying it will be difficult for Joseph and Hoskins to coexist because both are righthanded hitters with no place to play other than first base, and he did not elaborate much on the subject before Wednesday's 9-0 win that handed the white-hot Houston Astros their first loss against a National League team this season.
"The rest of the year will determine that," the manager said.
Matt Klentak could remedy the situation by dealing Joseph, but that did not seem to be high on his to-do list shortly after the Phillies general manager pulled the trigger on the first deadline deal of his tenure here by sending reliable reliever Pat Neshek to the Colorado Rockies Wednesday night for three minor-leaguers.
"It takes a really special fit for us to move a player that we really like, whether it is Tommy or anybody else," Klentak said. "We're very open-minded to listening on a variety of players. There are some we would prefer not to deal, but we still have to take those phone calls and we still have to listen. We have another five days or so to the deadline and we'll see where that takes us."
The Phillies, of course, would love to move veterans Howie Kendrick and Daniel Nava to help relieve a logjam in the outfield, but that scenario appeared to become less likely before Monday's deadline. Nava landed on the 10-day disabled list with a left hamstring strain Wednesday and Kendrick had to leave the game after being drilled in the left hand by a pitch from Houston's Mike Fiers.
Trade or no trade, Joseph's situation is likely to be different at this same time next week and Klentak acknowledged it, saying the unnatural platoon at first base could be in store for the final two months of the season.
"Look, they're both righthanded-hitting first basemen, so Pete would have to work through the playing time, but Pete is good with that," Klentak said. "Pete is doing it right now with four outfielders that all deserve to play every day and he has done it before. As long as Rhys continues to do his part and Tommy continues to hit up here, it's a good problem to have."
While Hoskins contributed his home run, a two-run double and three RBIs to a win at Lehigh Valley, Joseph provided three hits, including two doubles, and two RBIs for the Phillies.
"It's not an issue for me," Joseph said when asked about the looming trade deadline. "You know as soon as you're part of an organization that you're a trade chip, so I'm not worried about it by any means."
Joseph, in fact, has been there and done that. Five years ago, he was a catcher and the key player for the Phillies in the deadline deal that sent Hunter Pence to San Francisco. That trade seems as if it were 50 years ago because Joseph has endured so much, while Pence collected a couple of World Series rings with the Giants.
It is also easy to forget that Joseph is still only 26 years old and in the early stages of his major-league career, which is why it is somewhat surprising that there has not been more interest on the trade market for him.
"It surprises me," Mackanin said, "a guy who has that kind of power and he has been adequate defensively at first base. He has a strong arm. I think the rest of the season is going to determine how good he has a chance to be. When you're looking at players to acquire, there are a lot of other players available — minor-league players, major-league players — so I can't get into the heads of scouts."
With his 3-for-4 effort against the Astros, Joseph raised his batting average to .253 and his OPS to .765. He still ranks in the bottom third in most offensive categories among the 24 big-league first basemen who qualify for the batting title, but it is not unreasonable to think he has more of an upside offensively.
Fifteen of the 24 qualified first basemen are 30 or older and only one of the 24, Pittsburgh's Josh Bell, is younger than Joseph. You could argue that at least five teams — the Yankees, Mariners, Orioles, Twins, and Angels — would be better off with Joseph as their first baseman.
"That's up to other organizations and what the other organization's needs are," Joseph said. "Everybody's team is going to have different needs. I'm happy to be here and I'm happy I'm needed here and I'm ready to play first base every day."
The everyday part of that is about to expire and Joseph is aware of that.
"I know it's definitely a possibility," he said. "I know that they think highly of [Hoskins] and I know that he's a great baseball player. After that, it's out of my hands and I just have to prepare every day to play first base."