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Rhys Hoskins signing shows the Brewers are all in on 2024 — and rightfully so

Long assumed to be sellers this offseason, Milwaukee instead snagged a perfect free-agent fit as they eye another NL Central title.

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Rhys Hoskins of the Philadelphia Phillies looks on prior to a game against the Cleveland Guardians at Progressive Field on July 22, 2023 in Cleveland, Ohio. Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

So much for that rebuild. From pretty much the moment their 2023 season ended, most prognosticators had the Milwaukee Brewers pegged as among the biggest sellers of this offseason. You can understand the logic: The team flamed out in spectacular fashion in their Wild Card series, then lost manager Craig Counsell to the rival Cubs and co-ace Brandon Woodruff to shoulder surgery. With the team’s other ace, Corbin Burnes, and starting shortstop Willy Adames both entering their walk years — and little chance of re-signing either of them, considering the team’s uncertain financial future — it seemed like a winter sell-off was inevitable.

But as a wise man once said: Not so fast, my friend. Not only did long-rumored trades for Burnes and Adames never materialize, but now the Brew Crew have made a significant splash in free agency — one that perfectly fits the team’s short-term needs, and signals that they’re not giving up the NL Central crown without a fight. Late Tuesday night, news broke that Milwaukee had reached an agreement with longtime Phillies first baseman Rhys Hoskins. Per Jeff Passan, it’s a two-year, $34 million contract, with an opt-out after the first season that allows Hoskins to reenter free agency next winter should he so choose.

That opt-out is significant for Hoskins, considering that his market is at an all-time low right now. The 30-year-old missed all of last season after tearing his ACL during spring training; he had been eyeing a dramatic return if Philly made it all the way to the World Series, but that dream was cut short when the Phils lost NLCS Game 7 to the Arizona Diamondbacks. This deal gives Hoskins a chance to rebuild his value in 2024 — either he performs well and gets his big free-agent deal next offseason, or decides to opt in and has another $17 million guaranteed in 2025.

For the Brewers, meanwhile, it’s hard to imagine a better fit. First base was arguably the team’s biggest need; the departure of Carlos Santana left Yankees castoff Jake Bauers as the de facto starter, hardly an ideal spot for a team with hopes of contending. Hoskins is a massive upgrade there: Since breaking into the Majors in 2017, he’s been among the more consistent sluggers in the game, with an .846 career OPS (125 OPS+). You know what you’re going to get with Hoskins: He’s going to get on base (he led the NL in walks in 2019) and he’s going to swat 25-30 homers a year, and there’s no reason to think the ACL tear will throw a wrench in that production.

Even better for Milwaukee? Hoskins consistently crushes left-handed pitching, and few teams have struggled more against southpaws in recent years than the Brewers. They got a bit better as the 2023 season progressed, but they still slashed just .249/.325/.406 as a team against lefties. Hoskins, on the other hand, hit .286/.387/.558 off them in his last healthy season in 2022. Considering that the team’s other first base/DH options were almost entirely left-handed — Bauers, Garrett Mitchell, Tyler Black — Hoskins both gives the team another proven hitter and a way to balance out their lineup.

Beyond all of that, though, what the Hoskins signing does is set a course for this franchise moving forward — no small thing considering how bleak the picture looked at the end of 2023. The 2024 Brewers still have holes to fill, and it’s unclear whether this is the beginning of several additions or the team’s lone major move. But rather than pull the plug a year early out of fear, Milwaukee has instead decided to make one more run at an NL pennant with Burnes, Adames, Freddy Peralta, Christian Yelich and Co.

That doesn’t mean the team is in for a full-on rebuild after next season. The Jackson Chourio extension locks in one of the game’s brightest young talents for the long haul, and they’ll still have Yelich, Contreras, Peralta and a strong farm system to build around. But Yelich is already 32; Burnes and Adames are almost certainly gone in free agency; Contreras is set to hit arbitration next winter, at which time Devin Williams will be entering his walk year. A paradigm shift is coming, which means that this upcoming season should be sacred — one last push to finally get this core over the hump. GM Matt Arnold and Co. treated it that way by adding Hoskins, whom they hope can get them back to the postseason and pointed toward a pennant.