As Major League Baseball’s free agency period draws near, the Phillies have reportedly expressed interest in Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana:
— Jon Morosi (@jonmorosi) November 19, 2017
Obviously, the Phillies are thinking… actually, I’m not sure what the hell they’re thinking, but their link to Santana may reveal a bit about the team’s offseason plans. The 31-year-old played seven games in the outfield in 2017, but is best suited to play first base or DH. The Phillies would have to play him exclusively at first, a spot that would seemingly belong to Rhys Hoskins, who memorably mashed 18 home runs in 170 at-bats last season after his August call up.
So what gives?
I don’t expect the Phillies to go out and make significant upgrades through free agency, and although I’ve long suspected the front office would like to increase power output of the lineup, the signing of Santana, who homered only 23 times in 667 plate appearances last season, wouldn’t necessarily move the needle in that regard. Still, the move would make some sense. His addition would give the Phillies a veteran hitter with a disciplined approach. He walked in 13.1% of his trips to the plate and struck out in less than 15% of them a year ago. Take notes, Maikel Franco. But the signing of Santana, more than anything, is about leverage and value. Such a move would also kick Hoskins to left field, which, in turn, would create a surplus of young and intriguing outfielders. Hoskins and Nick Williams aren’t going anywhere, which means the team could look to deal Aaron Altherr or Odubel Herrera in exchange for difference-making starting pitching – something they desperately need moving forward.
The 27-year-old Altherr is under team control through 2021 and is coming off a productive year that saw him post an .856 OPS in 412 plate appearances. A team willing to overlook injury history and focus on his versatility, upside, and favorable contract situation could make for a trade partner. I’m not sure Altherr nets the type of arm the Phillies need, but Herrera would certainly fetch a top-of-the-rotation arm. Despite being egregiously underrated by this fanbase, his numbers and team-friendly contract make him a valuable commodity.
You may not like that he flips his bat, but dynamic 25-year-olds that can rake 59 extra-base hits in 138 games, have amassed 10.3 WAR in three seasons, AND have below market value contracts are a valuable commodity.
So is it a good idea? I appreciate the team’s proactive thinking here. It’s bold and aggressive, but I don’t think it’s a prudent one. The money doesn’t matter – they can do whatever they want financially – but I wouldn’t be in any rush to move Hoskins to left field where he would be a below average defender. Moreover, they should be careful of moving either player unless they are absolutely certain each guy has plateaued or doesn’t fit Gabe Kapler’s desired clubhouse culture. Herrera is easily distracted and Kapler seems fucking crazy, so that’s entirely possible.
Whether or not Santana ends up in Philly, we’ll see, but the Phillies’ reported interest in him suggests we may be about see an open-minded and creatively aggressive approach to this offseason by Matt Klentak and company.