The Phillies sound committed to letting Rhys Hoskins play first base in 2019

Rhys Hoskins played the majority of the 2018 season away from his natural position of first base. (Ian D’Andrea)

While Ken Rosenthal noted in a video for FOX Sports late in September that the Philadelphia Phillies trading Carlos Santana after the first year of a lucrative three-year contract isn’t likely, that doesn’t mean the club won’t look for a way to move Rhys Hoskins back to his natural position of first base. In fact, it appears that may be the most likely scenario for 2019.

At his season-ending press conference Tuesday, Phillies president Andy MacPhail talked about the possibility of Hoskins returning to first base.

“It’s no secret that we asked Rhys to play left field,” MacPhail told the collective media Tuesday afternoon. “Clearly, defense and getting people in their right positions is a goal for us going forward.”

The Phillies finished the season as the 29th ranked defensive team in baseball. Hoskins, a natural first baseman, primarily played in left field in 2018. Though MacPhail cautioned in his press conference that defensive metrics are still very much a work in progress, Hoskins posted a -11.3 ultimate zone rating in left field and -24 defensive runs saved. While Hoskins worked hard to adjust to left field, his -17.4 defensive WAR was the second lowest mark among all qualified fielders in 2018. He didn’t look long for left field.

Lost in a heated discussion between manager Gabe Kapler and Angelo Cataldi of SportsRadio 94 WIP Wednesday morning was Kapler admitting that all parties would prefer for Hoskins to play his natural position in 2019.

“Rhys prefers to be at first base. In a perfect world, we’d allow him to play first base,” Kapler told Cataldi. “One of the things I’m not going to come off my position on at all is looking out for the best interests of our players. Rhys has a desire to play first base, I would like that to be the outcome.”

In 10 of the Phillies final 17 games in 2018, Hoskins started at first base. During that stretch, Santana started at third base 12 times. A former catcher, Santana’s arm will play at third. It’s fair to wonder, however,  how Santana, who will be 33 early in the 2019 season, would hold up at third base over the course of an entire season. Santana did actually have one defensive run saved in the small sample size of 119.0 innings at third for the Phillies in 2018. However, he played third base for 225.2 innings in 2014, making six errors and tallying -5 defensive runs saved. Perhaps most noteworthy is that while playing third base for the Cleveland Indians in 2014, Santana made just 12.5 percent of the plays that FanGraphs deemed as 40-60 percent likely to be made. And that was when Santana was 28.

Still, Kapler and the Phillies seem to at least be considering the idea of playing Santana at third base primarily in 2019, which would allow Hoskins to return to first base on a regular basis.

“Yes [Santana is a viable option at third base], Carlos played well for us at third base,” Kapler said. “He’s an option, that doesn’t mean he’s the best option for us, but he’s certainly an option.”

The Phillies may hope to improve their defense prior to the 2019 season, though that doesn’t mean they’ll become one of the sports’s better fielding teams over the course of one offseason. Hoskins is probably better at first base than in left field, but truth be told, he’s probably best-suited to be a DH in the American League. The Phillies don’t have that option. They could altogether trade Santana, but they would likely have to eat a chunk of the $40 plus million he’s owed between 2019 and 2020. If the Phillies are going to pay Santana, they’d probably prefer he’s in their lineup and clubhouse, even if he isn’t a natural third base. It’s also worth pointing out that Maikel Franco, though sometimes flashy in the field, has never graded out particularly well at third base, so it’s not as though the Phillies would be asking Santana to replace Nolan Arenado at third base.

This offseason appears as though it could be the most crucial in Phillies history. Just one thing on the docket for general manager Matt Klentak will be attempting to improve the Phillies in the field.

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