One of the biggest issues the 2018 Philadelphia Phillies had was defense. They ranked second in Major League Baseball with 121 errors, behind only the St. Louis Cardinals. In addition, the Phillies had a fielding percentage of .979, also second worst in the league.
One factor of that poor defensive performance was Rhys Hoskins in left field. According to Baseball Reference, Hoskins had -24 defensive runs saved above average in left field , and had a -3.6 dWAR. While Hoskins is a natural first baseman, he’s currently blocked by Carlos Santana, who the Phillies signed to a three-year contract last offseason.
Appearing on with Joe DeCamara and Jon Ritchie on Sports Radio 94 WIP Thursday morning, Phillies general manager Matt Klentak discussed a number of topics, one of which was the future of Hoskins and Santana regarding their positions. When asked where he would prefer Hoskins play, Klentak gave an answer that would seem to indicate the team has plans for Hoskins to continue manning the outfield in some capacity:
“I would like Rhys to play the spot that makes our team the best, and the team around him will have as much to do with that as Rhys himself. Rhys in left field, is gonna get better. He’s too hard of a worker, too good of an athlete to not get better. He will. He’s still in his mid-20s. Over the next few years he’ll continue to improve out there.”
While the statistics would seem to indicate that Hoskins in left field does not make the team better, Klentak showed faith in Hoskins improving his defensive performance in the outfield, which suggests the team isn’t ready to give up the outfield experiment just yet. The 25-year-old Hoskins made up for his below average defense with his hitting last year, clubbing a team-leading 34 home runs with 96 RBIs.
As Corey Seidman of NBC Sports Philadelphia explained, there’s been some thought that the Phillies could slide Santana over to third base, while Hoskins moves back to first. Santana did start at third base 16 times in September, so the Phillies have at least flirted with that idea. But perhaps thinking Santana and Hoskins will play the same position everyday is misguided:
“I think Carlos is a really good first basemen. We experimented the last 10 days of the year with Carlos playing some third base, and he looked okay over there. I don’t know that we wanna commit to a full season switch at this juncture of Rhys moving to first and Carlos moving to third. But I do think there’s some reason for optimism that we could have both those guys playing a little bit of both of those spots. If we have a groundball guy on the mound, which we have a few of, we have [Aaron] Nola and [Jake] Arrieta most notably, we might create a lineup that day that optimizes for infield defense.”
Since the hiring of manager Gabe Kapler, the Phillies have taken a very analytical approach, trying to create favorable matchups in the lineups, bullpen and on the field. It appears that strategy will continue into 2019. That means both Santana and Hoskins will see time at multiple positions, depending on the circumstances of any given gameday. Klentak mentioned specifically that for groundball pitchers, Hoskins could see outfield playing time with Santana at first base, and for flyball pitchers Hoskins and Santana would see time at the corner infield positions.
However, if both Hoskins and Santana perform better at first and third respectively, then it’s not out of the question there could be a full-time switch. Santana still has two more years remaining on his three-year contract, making $20 million each year.
In September, NBC Sport’s Philadelphia‘s Jim Salisbury reported that the Phillies were considering trading Santana in order to open up positions for players like Hoskins, Roman Quinn, and top-prospect Adam Halsey. Of course, a trade would be difficult for a number of reasons, Santana’s down year (.229/.352/.414) and contract situation being two. With that in mind, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports noted during the waning days of the Phillies 2018 season that a trade of Santana this offseason wasn’t especially likely. For now, it appears that Hoskins and Santana will have to continue to co-exist on the field.
Of course, these plans on switching positions around could very well change depending on what happens in free agency, as Klentak mentioned:
“A lot of it’s just gonna have to do with what else we do this offseason, who’s available to us at what cost and how does that fit on our team? Ultimately it’s about winning baseball games and there’s a lot of different ways we can deploy players that put us in the best position to win.”
Outfielder Bryce Harper and shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado are both high on the Phillies wish-list. Beyond those two, other players such as outfielder A.J. Pollock or third baseman Josh Donaldson could be of interest. It’s hard to imagine the Phillies not bringing in at least one position player with starting ability over the winter, which will have repercussions across the diamond.
It’s clear the Phillies recognize their weaknesses from last year and are planning to trying to improve on those, or at least limit them to the best they can. Whether or not they can accomplish that won’t be seen until April, but for now the Phillies are preparing for one of the most important offseasons in franchise history, one that almost certainly will affect both Hoskins and Santana.
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