The 2018 Philadelphia Phillies still have eight remaining games on their slate. However, the Atlanta Braves clinched the National League East crown with a win over the Phillies Saturday. A Phillies loss Sunday, or a St. Louis Cardinals win over the San Francisco Giants, would eliminate the club from postseason contention altogether. So while 2018 has seen the Phillies play meaningful games in the final two months of the season for the first time in years, general manager Matt Klentak and Phillies brass will be left to evaluate how to help the Phillies reach the playoffs in 2019, with the club’s postseason drought set to be extended to seven years.
Per Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, National League Cy Young Award candidate Aaron Nola, to the surprise of no one, won’t be on-the-table in trade talks this offseason. The same goes for Rhys Hoskins, who became the first Phillie to hit over 30 home runs since 2011 earlier this month. Just about anyone else could be had, though:
“According to a source, the Phils will be open to trading anyone but Aaron Nola or Rhys Hoskins, though of course some trades would be more likely than others. Unlikely? A trade of Carlos Santana to reopen first for Hoskins. That would be an admission by the Phils that they never should have signed Santana in the first place.”
There are a few layers to this. The Santana note is interesting, because Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reported earlier this September that the Phillies have internally considered trading Santana after just the first year of a lucrative three-year free-agent contract. However, simply because something is internally considered doesn’t make it likely. The Phillies once internally considered trying to acquire Albert Pujols by sending Ryan Howard to the St. Louis Cardinals.
With that said, the Phillies have been among the worst defensive teams in the sport in 2018. The defender who has graded out the worst has been Hoskins, who has the lowest defensive WAR of any qualified fielder in baseball in his first full season in left field. Though he’s probably best-geared to be a DH for an American League team, the Phillies obviously don’t have that option to fall back on, so conventional wisdom suggests that the Phillies need to find a way to move Hoskins back to his natural position of first base.
To do that, the Phillies would likely need to part with Santana. Despite a .230 batting average, there’s no reason to think the Phillies have soured on Santana. He’s viewed as one of the best clubhouse leaders in the sport. He’s hit 23 home runs and driven in 83 runs. His 106 walks are the most a Phillie has had since 2007, when Ryan Howard walked 107 times and Pat Burrell walked 114 times. And his .234 batting average on balls in play – which is 40 points lower than the mark he posted in 2017 and 31 points lower than his career average – suggests his batting average could bounce-back in 2019. That doesn’t change Hoskins defensive shortcomings in the outfield, but it does make you think the Phillies won’t be eager to eat a chunk of the $40 million plus Santana is owed over the course of the next two seasons to facilitate a trade.
In this weekend’s Phillies Nation mailbag, I examined the possibility of Santana playing at third base in 2019. Though Santana, a former catcher, has the arm to play at third base, it’s fair to wonder how his speed and range would play at third over the course of a full season. The only extended experience Santana has at the hot corner came in 2014 with the Cleveland Indians, when Santana played 225.2 innings at third base. Santana posted -5 defensive runs saved, a -4.4 ultimate zone rating and made six errors in his most extended look at third base. However, the Phillies have started Santana at third base in nine of the last 16 games. Maikel Franco’s future is uncertain, something else Rosenthal alluded to in the video. So the possibility of Santana playing third base primarily in 2019 may be a consideration.
Another potential trade candidate is second baseman Cesar Hernandez, whose name has surfaced in trade rumors for the past two offseasons. Hernandez may walk 100 times in 2018, but he’s also seen his batting average dip nearly 40 points from the .294 mark that he hit in 2016 and 2017. With Scott Kingery’s natural position being second base, the Phillies figure to gauge the market for Hernandez again this offseason. But don’t be so sure he’ll be moved. He works the count, something the organization covets. The Phillies control the 28-year-old through 2020, so they don’t need to trade him, especially if offers aren’t to their liking after some regression in 2018. Kingery has also posted a -19.4 offensive WAR in his rookie season, so he hasn’t forced the hand of the Phillies. That doesn’t mean they won’t trade Hernandez to open second base for Kingery, but if the Phillies don’t sign Manny Machado to play shortstop this offseason, there’s a very real chance Hernandez will be the Opening Day second baseman and Kingery will be the Opening Day shortstop in 2019.
As mentioned earlier, Franco, and outfielder Odubel Herrera, will be two interesting pieces to watch this offseason. Still just 26, Franco may not be a finished product offensively, but he’s shown major strides after a disastrous 2017 season. The third baseman carried the Phillies offense in July, slashing .330/.378/.593 with seven home runs and a .971 OPS. But Franco’s numbers for the full season don’t look entirely different than the season he had in 2016. Herrera, meanwhile, had a scorching-hot start to the 2018 season, but has hit just .209 since the All-Star Break. With the emergence of Roman Quinn – who is a spark-plug when he’s healthy – the Phillies could consider trading Herrera’s extremely team-friendly contract this offseason.
Much of this offseason, of course, will revolve around whether the Phillies are able to lure Machado and/or six-time All-Star Bryce Harper to Philadelphia in free-agency. Rosenthal also hinted at the Phillies potentially making a play for a left-handed starting pitcher this offseason. Former Cy Young Award winners Clayton Kershaw and Dallas Keuchel could both be free-agents this offseason, though it’s fair to wonder if either are great fits for the Phillies at this juncture. Danny Duffy of the Kansas City Royals, whose had a down season, could be an interesting trade candidate, as could former World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, who will be eligible for free-agency after the 2019 season.
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