The Philadelphia Phillies have had a busy week. At the Winter Meetings, they signed two free agent relievers. And on Friday morning, they traded shortstop Freddy Galvis, the team’s longest-tenured player, to the San Diego Padres.
For a team that hasn’t done much over the last few years, that seems like enough, right? Well, apparently not.
While trading Galvis and signing relievers were expected moves, reportedly signing first baseman Carlos Santana on Friday is the opposite of expected. The Phillies already have their starting nine — in fact, they have more than they need. With home run smasher Rhys Hoskins at first, Santana seems a little redundant.
Santana seems more than redundant, actually. Phillies GM Matt Klentak has said several times that he wants to see what his core of young players (Hoskins, shortstop J.P. Crawford, catcher Jorge Alfaro, outfielders Odubel Herrera, Nick Williams, and Aaron Altherr, second baseman Scott Kingery, plus Aaron Nola and a glut of promising pitching) can do in 2018. Carlos Santana doesn’t really fit into that — or into the Phillies lineup as it’s currently constructed. So why are they doing this? What’s the purpose?
Let’s look at this logically. With Carlos Santana on board at first base (since the Phillies play in the National League and don’t have the DH), that shifts Hoskins to left field. It’s not an ideal spot, but it’s the only other place he can play. Hoskins is a natural first baseman, but the Phillies were so desperate to get him into the big league lineup in the fall that they put him in left field. It wasn’t a disaster, but compared to a real left fielder, Hoskins has the range of a rutabaga.
Playing Hoskins in left displaces one of the Phillies’ other outfielders: Nick Williams, Odubel Herrera, or Aaron Altherr. Unless the Phillies start doing what they do in Dutch baseball and adding extra outfielders, one of them will not have a spot come opening day. And when team intentionally gives itself an extra full time player, you can be sure a trade is on the horizon.
This actually makes sense for the Phillies. They need another pitcher to give their rotation a little more strength and longevity. And while the team can definitely afford to sign a free agent pitcher, the two guys that are the most attractive (Jake Arrieta and Yu Darvish) will cost a decent amount, and they may not want to sign with the Phillies since they’re coming off of some pretty terrible years. Trading for a pitcher using organizational depth is a great way to avoid the commitment that Arrieta and Darvish will require.
There’s one more reason the Phillies signed Carlos Santana: it lets agents and other players know they’re serious about competing. The 2018 free agent class is one of the most talented in years, and if they want a shot at signing Manny Machado or Bryce Harper, those players need to know that they’re in competition mode. Santana is the first big free agent off the table, and his three-year, $60 million contract from the Phillies is sure to get everyone’s attention.
This all adds up to one thing: the Phillies are charging up their rebuild. After their success in the second half of last season (they went 37-38, which is a massive improvement), it’s easy to see why they’re getting serious. Along with hiring a new manager and coaching staff, these moves mean they’re putting the finishing touches on the foundation of their team and getting ready for what comes next. If I were the Washington Nationals, I wouldn’t sleep on the Phillies. They could be appearing in the rearview before the end of 2018.
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