When Jim Thome blocked Ryan Howard at first base, the Phillies relocated Howard to left field. That experiment lasted for four intrasquad games in spring training. Years later, when Howard blocked Darin Ruf at first base, Ruf moonlighted in left field. He started 64 games there, but his inconsistent production at the plate did not offset the defensive sacrifices.
So, here again are the Phillies, with two productive first basemen and one spot. Tommy Joseph and Rhys Hoskins "can't coexist on the same team," Phillies manager Pete Mackanin said Friday, and his boss generally agreed with that assessment.
"I don't want to be so rigid to say that could never happen," Phillies general manager Matt Klentak said Saturday. "But it's obviously a challenge to try to make that work."
What about trying one of them in left field?
"We've certainly explored it," Klentak said. "We want to put the best team we can on the field to both score the most runs and also prevent the most runs, and we have to balance the offense with the defense."
Neither Joseph nor Hoskins are regarded as athletic players. Joseph is a converted catcher. Hoskins has never played a position other than first base. The Phillies have won before without a defensive maven in left field, but those teams scored so often that it was acceptable to cede some range in left field.
The exploration of either Joseph or Hoskins in left field has not advanced beyond the brainstorm stage. It's likely that it never does. When asked if either one could do it at the major-league level, Klentak hinted at his preference.
"We haven't tried that, so you wouldn't know until you tried it," he said. "But there's a reason both of them are playing first base right now."
That's why Joseph is a candidate to be traded in the next three weeks. The Phillies removed Joseph from the 40-man roster in October 2015, and he's worked hard to overcome concussion problems to become a productive player in the majors. He has provided more value than the new regime had anticipated.
Slugging first basemen are not typically a top commodity, at least not in the current environment where home runs are more prevalent than ever. That could limit Joseph's potential trade value. The Phillies could look to package him with one of their veteran rental players being shopped to contenders.
Klentak did not make a trade last summer. Teams have contacted him on a regular basis for the last week.
"I would expect we would be more active than last year," Klentak said. "I think a lot of our short-term controlled players have had nice first halves. I think that's going to put us in position to field a lot of inquiries and we are fielding those inquiries. We'll have to see.