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The Phillies’ signing of Carlos Santana changes everything

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On Episode 167 of The Felske Files, host John Stolnis explains how the surprising signing of the slugging first baseman changes the meaning of the 2018 season.

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I’m still shocked. Are you still shocked?

The signing of free agent Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million deal sent minor shockwaves throughout a Major League Baseball establishment that has gotten used to the Phils not doing a whole lot more than signing rickety veteran players to one-year deals over the last few winters.

But the signing of Santana is different from anything general manager Matt Klentak has done in his brief tenure at the helm of the Phillies.

Folks, the Phils’ rebuilding process, as we’ve come to know it, is over. Gone are the days when winning baseball games didn’t matter as much as prospect development and roster flexibility. Sure, those things are still important, which is why we can’t say the rebuild is officially done. But the acquisition of Santana shouts one thing clearly and loudly from the highest peaks of the Poconos.

It’s time to win.

Santana is a really good hitter, providing you’re not someone who is only looking at batting average and home runs to judge a player’s actual value. Last season he hit .259/.363/.455 with 23 bombs and 37 doubles in 667 PAs. Since becoming a full-time player in 2011, he has a slash line of .249/.363/.445 with 168 home runs, an average of 26 a season per 162 games.

If you look at any sets of stats regarding Santana, please let it be this one right here.

Among qualified first basemen, Santana’s fWAR of 3.0 ranked 12th, putting him in the upper half in baseball in ‘17. His walk rate (13.2%) was much higher than the league average (8.5%), and his strikeout rate (14.1%) was much lower (21.6%). He’s exactly what Klentak wants in the middle (or perhaps even the top) of his lineup, a hitter with some power who works the count and gets on base.

The arrival of Santana pushes incumbent first baseman Rhys Hoskins to left field, which could set off a whole chain of events. Hoskins started 29 of 50 games last year in left field and, while he cost them some defensive runs saved and won’t win any awards out there, he did OK and was better than Pat Burrell or Raul Ibanez defensively.

Moving Hoskins to the outfield full-time is a risky move, but is one Klentak and manager Gabe Kapler obviously thinks will pay off.

Of course, now the Phillies seemingly have a glut of outfielders, which means one of Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams or Odubel Herrera could be on their way out the door for a starting pitcher, the next item of priority for Klentak and the Phils.

The Phillies didn’t get Santana to tread water in 2018, and in order to truly compete for a playoff spot, they must improve their starting pitching. Now, Klentak has at least one talented young outfielder he can use as the lead piece for a young, top-of-the-rotation starter like Toronto’s Marcus Stroman, Pittsburgh’s Gerrit Cole, Tampa Bay’s Chris Archer, Detroit’s Michael Fulmer or Kansas City’s Danny Duffy.

Any of those arms would be a tremendous addition to Aaron Nola.

If they don’t pull something else off here, then this move is a head-scratcher. Without another shoe dropping, it doesn’t make much sense, but the smart money is that another shoe will soon hit the floor. Clearly the team looks at the state of the NL East and sees a number of franchises going through some struggles. The Washington Nationals are certainly still the clear-cut favorites, but the Miami Marlins are shedding players, the Atlanta Braves still aren’t close and the New York Mets feature a talented roster that fails to stay healthy.

The Phillies have a shot at finishing second in the division next year, which puts them right in the thick of the wild card conversation. And with Santana aboard and more moves likely on the way, the Phillies have upped the ante on 2018.

Carlos Santana has changed everything.

On this bonus Felske Files podcast, Episode 167, I break down the Santana signing even further, and also discuss the Freddy Galvis trade.