Earlier this month, I penned a piece suggesting that the year-long experiment of Rhys Hoskins playing in left field has been unsuccessful. The 25-year-old, who is a natural first baseman, has the lowest defensive WAR of any qualified fielder in baseball in 2018. After briefly playing left field in 2017, Hoskins remained there after the Phillies signed Carlos Santana to a lucrative three-year contract to play first base. Even if the Phillies opinion of Santana remains very high, it appears they have an understanding that for Hoskins to play first in 2019, Santana would likely need to be traded.
According to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia, the Phillies have had internal discussions about moving Santana this offseason:
According to sources, Phillies officials have at least discussed the idea of improving their outfield defense by trading Carlos Santana and moving Hoskins back to first base, which would create a spot in left field for Roman Quinn and Adam Haseley, who could be knocking on the door by the middle of next summer. Getting Hoskins some time at first base down the stretch might be a harbinger of this.
Santana’s first season in Philadelphia has been strange. The 32-year-old’s .229 batting average would suggest that he’s underperformed. However, his .230 batting average on balls in play, which is 35 points lower than his career average, suggests he’s been unlucky in 2018. One may point to his decrease in medium contact and increase in soft contact as a reason why his batting average on balls in play has dropped. Still, he’s seen an increase in his hard contact.
Additionally, Santana has homered 23 times, driven in 82 runs and walked 97 times in 2018, the most walks a Phillies has posted in a decade. FanGraphs estimates that his production has been worth $14.5 million in 2018. That may feel a bit disappointing considering he’s making $18.3 million in 2018, but like Jake Arrieta, the Phillies slightly overpaid Santana annually so they didn’t have to guarantee him a fourth or fifth year in his contract.
In any event, this debate isn’t really about the degree to which Santana’s first season has disappointed. It’s about doing the best for Hoskins, who became the first Phillie in seven seasons to reach the 30 home run mark last weekend. It’s clear that Hoskins is going to be a fixture in the Phillies lineup for some time to come. Truth be told, he’s probably best suited to be a DH in the American League. But that obviously isn’t an option for the Phillies, and their thinking may be that he would be less of a defensive liability at first than in left field.
In any trade of Santana, it would be interesting to see how much of the $41.1 million that he’s owed between 2019 and 2020 that the Phillies would have to eat. Santana is still a productive player, one that would be especially intriguing to American League teams. He’s also viewed as one of the best clubhouse presences in the sport. Still, the Phillies wouldn’t have a ton of leverage in a move of Santana, and that may force them to eat a rather large chunk of his salary in a deal.
Hoskins moving back to first would also have an interesting domino effect on the Phillies outfield. Nick Williams would likely move to left field. If Roman Quinn is healthy and Odubel Herrera is still with the club in 2019, that would likely leave Quinn in center and Herrera in right field, a position he’s never played. Of course, the looming possibility of signing Bryce Harper would also affect the outfield. It’s safe to say this is a rather crucial offseason for general manager Matt Klentak and the Phillies.
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