The Philadelphia Phillies agreed to terms with veteran free agent first baseman Carlos Santana this past week.
Per a report from Phillies insider Jim Salisbury on December 15, the formal signing will take place pending the results of a physical exam.
This was a wholly unnecessary signing, and I believe that in the end it will prove to have been a waste of $60 million dollars.
The Phillies are mostly a young team. They are finishing up a rebuilding program that has seen major changes within the organization over the last few years. Now the club is trying to find a few more talented veteran pieces that will help their young nucleus move forward in the standings.
Santana (Twitter: @TheRealSlamtana) would appear to fit the bill in a handful of ways. He will turn 32 years old by the first week of April. He has seven full years of big league experience. Santana certainly fits the “veteran” bill.
He also fits in a couple of other ways. The Phillies could use a bit more power and patience in their batting order. Santana has averaged 24 home runs over those seven full seasons, which were all spent with the Cleveland Indians in the American League. His career .365 on-base percentage demonstrates plate discipline that is generally lacking with the Phillies lineup.
Defensively, while Santana will never be an NL Gold Glove Award winner, he does field the position well. His 6.7 rating on the SABR Defensive Index led the American League, and ranked fifth among all MLB first basemen.
Bleacher Report ranked Santana at #12 in their Top 25 First Basemen of 2017 list. Their Zachary Rymer stated the following:
“Swing-wise, Santana was once again one of the most extreme pull hitters in MLB. This made him vulnerable against shifts, but his pickiness allowed for consistent contact and his strength and solid loft allowed for relatively easy power.”
Santana is a veteran who hits home runs, gets on base, and fields his position well. So what’s not to like?
First would be his age, and the contract. As previously stated, Santana turns 32 years old at the start of the season. The Phillies have reportedly offered him a three-year, $60 million deal with a team option for a fourth year. The contract commits the team to him at least through his age 34 season, and makes him one of the top 50 highest paid players in baseball history based on average annual value.
That 24 homers per year? It’s just an average, one that is propped up by a 34 homer campaign in 2016. He has never otherwise approached that number. He also has a pair of 27 homer seasons upping that average. Those two seasons came four and seven years ago, respectively.
Santana is not an elite middle-of-the-order offensive performer, but he will be paid like one. He has just a career .249 batting average, and has failed to reach the .260 mark in six of those seven full seasons. He has averaged just 80 RBI per full season. That’s not bad at all, but nothing special for a 3-4-5 hitter in your lineup.
From what I have seen in my 47 years following Phillies baseball, Carlos Santana does not appear to be the kind of player who is going to sell tickets and merchandise. There will not be a boatload of Santana shirseys and jerseys flying off the Majestic Clubhouse store shelves. This is not another Jim Thome signing. Not even close.
The Phillies are paying $20 million per year for the next three years (at least) for a guy who has received MVP votes just once. A realistic best-case season for Santana would be a .250 batting average with 20-25 homers and 80 RBI.
Finally, the Phillies already had a strong first baseman who appeared set there for years to come. Rhys Hoskins banged 18 homers, drove in 48 runs, scored 47 times, and had a .396 on-base percentage in less than half the number of plate appearances as Santana was given.
Hoskins only turns 25 years old during spring training in March. He is not arbitration eligible for another three years, and cannot become a free agent until after the 2024 season. He is clearly a big part of the Phillies future.
Also, Hoskins is a first baseman, not a left fielder. He can passably play left field, sure. If the Phillies could stick Greg Luzinski, Pete Incaviglia, and Pat Burrell out there and win pennants, then they can probably do the same with Hoskins.
But Hoskins best position is first base, he was already there, and the team has not upgraded that position with the Santana signing. For me, and many others, defense is a key component in winning championships. Hoskins in left field weakens the overall defense.
The Phillies should have entered 2018 with Hoskins as their first baseman. If they wanted to spend big money, they should have done it on the mound or elsewhere. If there was nothing available elsewhere, then should have saved their money for another opportunity, either at the trade deadline or next off-season.
There is an argument being made in some circles that this will free up the Phillies to deal one of their other corner outfielders for that much-needed starting pitching. Really? Who would that be? Who is going to give you a valuable starting pitcher in exchange for Aaron Altherr or Nick Williams? Really.
I am not saying that Altherr and Williams are not good players. Both are good outfielders and solid hitters. But neither is a difference maker for another lineup. Neither seems the type to get another club to come up off a legitimate starting pitcher.
To me, the Phillies would have been better off keeping what they had and letting them play in the 2018 season. Keep Hoskins at first base, let Altherr and Williams play full-time on the outfield corners. Largely with that configuration, the Phillies went 23-19 after mid-August in 2017.
Pocket that $20 million until a chance came to add a Manny Machado or a Bryce Harper, or a big pitcher. Maybe a couple of those. Sure, it will take more than $20 million for those guys. So apply the $20 million towards that cost.
The Phillies MLB insider, Todd Zolecki, speculated that the Phillies may be hoping for a run at .500 with the Santana signing. That would make them more attractive next off-season for big free agents like Harper or Machado.
For me, the Phillies lineup without Santana was ready to make such a run. Standing pat would have kept $20 million in the bank that would have been better spent elsewhere.
I get the sense that the Phillies spent money here simply because they had it to spend, and didn’t want to be accused of once again doing little or nothing to improve the club. They saw a move that they could justify, and made the best deal that they could.
The Phillies picked up a couple of nice right-handed bullpen pieces in Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter. They also made a move that I have been hoping for, trading away the over-rated Freddy Galvis to open up shortstop for J.P. Crawford. Those moves, I can get behind.
But the Phillies did not sign a 27-year old Carlos Santana, one who was going to be with them for the next half-dozen years as they became a consistent contender while he played in his prime. They are paying a lot of money for a good, not great, player who will be on the back end of his career.
Had they signed Santana for one year, I could have accepted it. Maybe even one with a mutual option, with less guaranteed per year. But three years and $60 million for a 32-year old player at a position that was already covered? If finalized, this will prove to be a bad signing by the Philadelphia Phillies.