Carlos Santana

Good for first-time MLB All-Star Carlos Santana, who probably couldn't have been this player with Phillies

Good for first-time MLB All-Star Carlos Santana, who probably couldn't have been this player with Phillies

Carlos Santana, who had one of the lower approval ratings among recent Phillies because of fan expectations that were unmet, is starting in the 2019 All-Star Game. In Cleveland, his home park.

A lot can change in 12 months.

Santana has always been most comfortable in Cleveland. He was thrilled to have the chance to return to the Indians in the three-team trade this past December that sent Edwin Encarnacion to the Mariners and Yandy Diaz to the Rays. 

Back in Cleveland — where Santana spent his first eight seasons before joining the Phillies on a three-year, $60 million contract — Santana has had a remarkably productive first half. He's hit .290/.411/.541 with 18 home runs and 48 RBI in 79 games. His .951 OPS is 185 points higher than it was last season with the Phillies.

It's hard to explain. There is the comfort of a familiar team and familiar league. There is also the 71-point difference of his batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Last season, Santana had a career-worst .231 BABIP. This season, he's at a career-best .302.

Phillies GM Matt Klentak, who signed Santana to that three-year, $60 million deal just before Christmas in 2017, was asked about the first baseman earlier this week.

"You guys know how I feel about Carlos Santana," he said. "You know that I really like the player. Carlos Santana's career has been characterized by high walk rates, more walks than strikeouts and power, and he's a pretty good defender at first base. That's exactly what he is this year. His walk rate is about the same as it was last year. His strikeouts are actually up a little bit. And he's running a BABIP that's about 75 points higher. What comes with that is additional batting average points and additional slugging percentage points. He's the same guy. He's the same guy."

As in, he's the same guy he's been for most of his career ... just not for the one season in Philly, when Santana did walk a ton but hit a career-low .229, also hit .229 with runners in scoring position, and didn't produce enough power to make up for it.

"It's the same guy he's been for a decade," Klentak said. "In years where he has a slightly higher batting average of balls in play, his numbers are going to look better. And in the years where it's slightly lower, like they were last year, it's going to look slightly worse. He's the same player. He really is. It's a 75-point difference. It's a big difference and he's had years like that in his career where he's had the higher BABIPs and those look like his best years."

Klentak was not diminishing Santana's performance this season, he was answering a question about whether the Phillies' offensive philosophies could have anything to do with the glaring difference in Santana's rate stats. 

In any case, it is a cool story for Santana, who deserves the starting All-Star nod. He has been the AL's best first baseman in 2019. Had he stayed here, it's hard to say whether he would have achieved those numbers. Even if he did, the Phillies would be a worse team because they'd still have Rhys Hoskins in left field or would be playing Santana at third base, where passable defense was unlikely to be maintained over 162 games.

Only four active players had played more MLB games than Santana without making an All-Star team: Mark Reynolds, Rajai Davis, Gerardo Parra and Kendrys Morales.

In what has to be the most stunning All-Star berth, former Phillie Hunter Pence also made the AL All-Star team as the starting DH. Pence was having a strong first half but it's still hard to believe given the hundreds of games he missed to injury the last four seasons and his rapidly declining production the last two.

Looking at Pence's 13-year career in totality, it's almost as if he had separate careers as an Astro and as a Giant, with the foggy memory of one calendar year in Philadelphia.

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Gabe Kapler says players could have been more engaged during Phillies' 2018 collapse

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Gabe Kapler says players could have been more engaged during Phillies' 2018 collapse

CLEARWATER, Fla. — As the Phillies limped to the finish line with 20 losses in the final 28 games last season, some players basically checked out.

"I think in September our players could have been more engaged," manager Gabe Kapler confirmed to reporters in Jupiter, Fla., on Monday. "With the players I thought could have been more engaged, those conversations were had. I addressed every situation that clearly needed to be addressed last year in appropriate settings."

Kapler spoke in response to an ESPN story that told of how Carlos Santana smashed a television at Citizens Bank Park after seeing a couple of teammates playing a video game during a ballgame against the Atlanta Braves on the final weekend of the season.

Phillies pitcher Jake Arrieta did not deny that some team members played video games in the clubhouse last season. He added that he did not believe video games were played during games.

Kapler said he was unaware of any of his players playing video games while the baseball game was in progress — "That's unacceptable, 100 percent," he said — but he did not deny that Santana trashed some equipment in the video room.

"In the middle of the summer, the chemistry of the clubhouse was very good," said Kapler, whose club was in first place in the NL East in early August. "As we struggled at the end, understandably, tensions ran high. When that happens, players tend to react. 

"Carlos became frustrated as happens in high-tension situations. He responded by smashing up some TVs. I don't think that's uncommon. I don't think it's uncommon to see players get frustrated in high-tension situations. That happens in every clubhouse environment. "

Kapler said he spoke personally with Santana after the incident and addressed the team in a meeting. The manager opened spring training last month by saying he planned on having more clubhouse boundaries in his second season.

"We are putting steps in place to ensure that when tensions run high again, players communicate and look out for each other," Kapler said. "I care deeply about our clubhouse culture and we are collectively doing everything we can to continue to monitor these situations, and to improve that."

On Monday, Rhys Hoskins defended his manager and said the incident involving the video games and Santana's reaction was not a poor reflection on Kapler's leadership.

What does Kapler think?

"When things aren't going the way that they should, it is always my responsibility to step up and be accountable for those things," Kapler said. "And I will do that in this situation as well."

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Setting clubhouse boundaries is a smashing idea for these Phillies

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Setting clubhouse boundaries is a smashing idea for these Phillies

CLEARWATER, Fla. — At the start of spring training, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said he would implement stronger clubhouse boundaries "that make it clear we are here to work every single day."

At the time, Kapler refused to offer examples of why he would run a tighter ship in his second season on the job.

Now, thanks to Carlos Santana, Kapler's reasoning is becoming clearer.

In an ESPN story posted Monday morning, Santana, now with the Cleveland Indians after spending 2018 with the Phillies, tells of smashing a television on the final weekend of the season after seeing "a couple" of teammates playing video games during a game against the Atlanta Braves at Citizens Bank Park. The Phillies, who plummeted from first place in the NL East to under .500 over the final seven weeks of the season, lost their ninth straight game when Santana acted out.

The ESPN story was a topic of conversation in the Phillies' clubhouse Monday morning. Both Jake Arrieta and Rhys Hoskins downplayed the incident.

"There is some untruth to the story, some things that were not portrayed correctly," Arrieta said. "I don't believe that guys were playing video games during the game. That's something that I would not allow and a majority of the guys on the team would not allow.

"There was a lot of video-game playing and I was a part of it, too, but well in advance of the game — and that was something that we bonded over. It brought us close together and it was something we had in common. It was fun. But as far as during the game, and I've talked to a bunch of our guys, I do not believe that was taking place."

Arrieta went on to say that Santana did his damage late at night, well after most of the players had departed.

Arrieta and Hoskins are both part of a group of players that, in concert with Kapler, have come up with a new set of standards for the clubhouse.

"I think this is kind of giving us a little bit of a roadmap of what we need to focus on this year, what needed to change in our clubhouse," Hoskins said. "One thing that I want to make clear is that this has absolutely nothing to do with Kap. Kap is a great leader. He knows how to bring us together. He left it up to us players to kind of police ourselves.

"When you're winning, the chemistry is great and everybody is bonding. But when you're frustrated and losing the way that we did at the end of the year, you start to search for answers. What are we doing wrong? People get frustrated. That's the natural flow of this game. Emotions run high and I think that's what we saw with Carlos last year. Nobody is knocking him for doing that. It happens. That's what happens in a room full of men when you're frustrated. But, like I said, it kind of made us aware that we as players need to do a better job of holding each other accountable and making sure that we're all preparing for a game." 

Arrieta said video-gaming would now stop an hour before the game.

He went on to explain that the Phillies' pre-game clubhouse was not some red-pinstriped version of Pee-wee's Playhouse.

"Everybody's wired differently, everybody locks in for a game differently," he said. "For one guy to think that video games are a disturbance to the team, is another guy's version of getting prepared for the game. You don't have to be sitting in front of the video screen watching videotape up until the first pitch to get ready for the game. Everyone is different in that regard.

"That's why I say communication (between Santana and teammates) should have taken place because we could have had a conversation about, 'OK, I understand that you maybe don't like guys playing video games, but what if someone doesn't like you on your phone watching a movie before the game?' It's kind of the same thing. So, for me, it's just a matter of understanding that guys are different, guys like to prepare different, but at the end of the day no one should be watching Netflix or whatever during the game or video games."

It is not unusual for players not in a game to spend time in the clubhouse during a game. Arrieta said there would be more focus on being in the dugout during the game, starting with the National Anthem, this season.

Santana was traded to Seattle and then Cleveland this winter. The trade was not a result of his frustration; it was to open first base for Hoskins. Santana paid for the damage that he did to the Phillies' video equipment. He is not the first Phillie to get a bill for smashing a TV. It has happened in the past, usually out of frustration over performance.

"I like Carlos and I think he's a great player," Arrieta said. "I just think it boils down to not communicating, and that's it. I wish it would've happened. It didn't. But it's not something anybody in here is worried about. We're focused on March 28, really, and preparation for the Braves and getting our guys out of here healthy.

"It's just some crap that happened last year that was unfortunate, but once the year was over, we all pretty much forgot about it."

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