In December 2017, Philadelphia Phillies general manager Matt Klentak signed first baseman Carlos Santana as a free agent. The Phillies GM gave Santana a guaranteed three-year, $60 million deal that would take him from his age 32 through age 34 seasons.
The move was unnecessary right from the start. The Phillies already appeared set with Rhys Hoskins entering his age 25 season at the first base position.
Hoskins had belted 18 homers and drove in 48 runs with a .396 on-base percentage and .618 slugging percentage over just 50 games during his outstanding 2017 rookie campaign.
He is never going to be a Gold Glover anywhere he plays, and so first base is easily the best place for Hoskins. Over parts of four minor league seasons he appeared in a grand total of four games in left field, all just prior to his 2017 promotion.
Hoskins cannot become a free agent until after the 2023 season, so the Phillies should have been set at first base for at least the next half-dozen years.
Santana would produce a season in which he was second on the Phillies to Hoskins in both home runs (24) and RBI (86), which are roughly his career-average levels. However, he also hit for a pitiful .229 batting average.
Trying to squeeze some offense out of his lineup, Klentak reached for Santana. It didn’t work. The Phillies were one of baseball’s statistically worst offensive teams all year long.
And in making the move, Klentak also hurt the team defense by moving Hoskins out in left field. The Phillies overall defense was also one of baseball’s worst this past season.
First base was and remains the best position for Santana. Over eight big league seasons he had been a catcher and first baseman. The former was when he was a young player, the latter in recent years. He played just 26 games at third base, all when in his prime at age 28 in the 2014 season.
Down the stretch, with the season already lost thanks to a Phillies collapse over the final seven weeks, the team seemed to admit its mistake. Hoskins was returned to first base, playing there in 11 of the final 17 games and six of the last seven.
Meanwhile, Santana was moved across the infield to the hot corner. He appeared in 18 of the last 27 games there. Regular third baseman Maikel Franco had begun experiencing pain in his wrist, then suffered a shoulder injury while diving into a camera well during a September 11 doubleheader. Franco would play in just nine September games.
Through a late-August road trip prior to the onset of his physical troubles, Franco was arguably having a better season than Santana. He was hitting for a .276 average with 22 homers and 66 RBI in 119 games, a pace that would have seen him finish with roughly 30 homers and 90 RBI. He is certainly a better defensive third baseman.
The Phillies should again be set at both corners. Hoskins is apparently back as the regular first baseman. As our Tim Kelly reported here at Phillies Nation two weeks ago, the Phillies sound committed to Hoskins playing first base in 2019. Across the diamond, Franco is clearly the better option. He also cannot become a free agent until after the 2021 season.
Now as the Phillies begin preparations for 2019, it is time to recognize fully the Santana mistake, and turn the page from the player who will turn 33-years-old early next season. The worst thing that the club could do is enter spring training with any ambiguity involving two key young players.
There are two ways to handle the Santana situation. Either is fine with me. First and best, trade him to another team for something of value. You aren’t going to get much for an aging, limited player making $40 million over the next two years. But maybe if you take on most or all of that contract you can get something decent.
While this is plan 1-A in getting rid of Santana, an acceptable alternative would be simply letting him go to any team willing to take on all or most of the contract. That seems a long shot at best.
Perhaps the Minnesota Twins, where franchise icon Joe Mauer may have played his final game. Maybe the Seattle Mariners would feel Santana’s on-base ability would upgrade them enough to push through in the American League Wildcard picture.
The second option is the toughest pill to swallow. However, when you make a mistake the best thing to do is fix it and move on. If the Phillies cannot find a taker for Santana by December, I would release him and just eat the $40 million.
That’s easy for me to say, since it’s not my money. But it would also be the right thing to do. The Santana signing was a mistake from the get-go. Admit you made that mistake and move on. The Phillies will be better for it in the next two seasons and beyond.
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