Carlos Santana at third base in 2019? He’d be open to it

Carlos Santana at third base in 2019? He’d be open to it

DENVER – Carlos Santana started at third base for the 10th time this month for the Phillies on Monday night.

It almost feels like a tryout.

An evaluation.

Manager Gabe Kapler began giving Santana starts at the position in early September because it allowed him to get Justin Bour’s bat in the lineup at first base.

Recently, Kapler has used Santana at third as a way to improve the Phillies’ outfield defense. With Santana at third, Rhys Hoskins can move from left field to his natural first base and Kapler can use a stronger defender in left. On Monday night, he used an outfield of Roman Quinn in center, Odubel Herrera in right and Aaron Altherr in left. It was all about covering the vast green that is the Coors Field outfield.

It’s no secret that Hoskins has struggled defensively in left field. The idea of moving him back to first base next season has been discussed by club officials. Hoskins would be more comfortable there and the Phils could seek a defensive upgrade in left.

But what do you do with Santana, who is signed for two more years at $40 million. The Phils have discussed dealing him this winter, but that might be difficult. Could playing him at third base in 2019 be the solution?

“It’s something that we’ll sit down with a little bit more perspective and a little less emotion and evaluate when the time is right,” manager Gabe Kapler said Monday.

There are variables to consider when weighing the possibility of using Santana at third base full time. One is Manny Machado. The Phillies are going to make a free-agent run at him this winter. He would look good at third base, but he might want to play shortstop and the Phils would probably be open to that to get him. Another is Maikel Franco. He had some big downs and some big ups in 2018. Will the Phils keep him or look to deal him? The guess here is they will look to move him.

The other matter to consider is Santana’s defense. He does not have good range. Would the Phils, already a poor defensive team, be able to live with Santana’s defense at third? They seem to be gathering answers this month.

“I think his performance thus far at third base has been good,” Kapler said. “I don’t know how predictive that is of what we might get from Carlos at third base moving forward.”

Santana, 32, actually began his pro career as a third baseman in the low minors with the Dodgers in 2005. He eventually was moved to catcher and then first base with the Indians.

How would he feel about playing third base next season?

“I’d be open to it,” he said. “I’m prepared for any situation. All I care about is being in the lineup every day. It doesn’t matter if I’m at first or third.”

Rockies 10, Phillies 1

The Phillies, staggering to the finish line, lost their fifth straight game and are now 15-30 since leading the NL East by 1½ games on Aug. 5. They were 15 games over .500 on that date. They are now 78-78 with six games to play. It is the first time they’ve been .500 since April 10. A sixth straight losing season looks to be in the cards.

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Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Stephen Strasburg got how much? Good thing Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did

Good thing the Phillies signed Zack Wheeler when they did.

Stephen Strasburg, who entered the offseason as the No. 2 starting pitcher in free agency behind Gerrit Cole and ahead of Wheeler, is returning to the Nationals on a massive seven-year, $245 million contract, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan.

As historically good as Strasburg was in October, that is an insane number for him. He will turn 32 midway through the first of the seven years. He has made 30 starts in just three of nine seasons and reached 200 innings twice. He was more durable than ever in 2019 and, boy, did he cash in because of it. 

Two seasons ago, in 2018, Strasburg made 22 starts with a 3.74 ERA. Had he had that type of season in 2019, he probably wouldn't have even opted out of the remaining three years and $75 million to find this next payday.

Good for him. But also good for the Phillies in agreeing with Wheeler five days before the Nats retained Strasburg. Because if Wheeler was still on the board today, that number is at least $20 million higher and maybe more. Would a team go to $140 million for Wheeler? What about $160 million? Think about how many free agents the White Sox have struck out on in recent years. Wouldn't they have been likely to up their offer one more time if Wheeler was still out there to see what Strasburg signed for?

Strasburg is a great pitcher, don't get it twisted. He proved in 2019 that he can be the most reliable and important arm in the league when the pressure is at its peak. But forget Year 6, by Year 3 or 4 of this deal, the Nationals could be regretting it mightily.

And if this is what it took to sign Strasburg, Gerrit Cole is even more likely to approach $300 million.

There has been much more offseason activity leaguewide than there was at this point a year ago. The five best remaining free agents are Cole, Anthony Rendon, Josh Donaldson, Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The next three would be Nick Castellanos, Didi Gregorius, Marcell Ozuna and then you're getting into back-end-rotation types.

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How close are Phillies to luxury tax threshold after Zack Wheeler signing?

How close are Phillies to luxury tax threshold after Zack Wheeler signing?

The Phillies, after signing Zack Wheeler for $118 million over five years, are approximately $20 million below MLB's luxury tax threshold for the 2020 season.

John Middleton was asked at a news conference six weeks ago about his willingness to exceed the $208 million tax, which for a first-time offender like the Phillies would result in a 20 percent penalty for every dollar they are over $208M.

This is what the Phils' managing partner said:

Here’s what I’m not going to do. I’m not going to go over the luxury tax so we have a better chance to be the second wild-card team. That’s not going to happen. I think you go over the luxury tax when you’re fighting for the World Series. If you have to sign Cliff Lee and that puts you over the tax, you do it. If you have to trade for Roy Halladay and sign him to an extension and that puts you over the tax, you do it. But you don’t do it for a little gain.”

The 2020 Phillies are not one piece away from seriously contending for a World Series. Even after the Wheeler splash, they still need at least one more strong regular in the lineup, at least one starting pitcher, a couple semi-reliable relief arms and a more competent bench. The strength of the Nationals and Braves also complicates things.

Suffice it to say, this does not sound like the situation Middleton described above.

That does not mean, however, that the Phillies' front office is treating the tax threshold like a hard cap. If the right opportunity presents itself, they will pounce. If the expected dollar figure for Anthony Rendon somehow doesn't materialize, the Phillies wouldn't pass up a great deal for a great fit just to stay under in 2020.

They're just going to be logical about it. There is reason to leave flexibility for midseason when you have a better idea of how close you are to contending for a division title. Why overpay a middling reliever or starter now when you can potentially acquire a difference-making one in July? 

This is a key season coming up for the Phillies. After 2020, they free up $38 million as the contracts of Jake Arrieta and David Robertson expire. That's money that can be reallocated to a very good starting pitcher and a very good everyday player. Right now, those two contracts are hindrances. Robertson is unlikely to contribute in 2020 and the Phillies desperately need Arrieta to be better than a No. 4.

The Phillies' proximity to that $208 million luxury tax threshold helps explain why they didn't beat the Braves' one-year, $18 million offer to Cole Hamels. As nice as a reunion with Hamels would have been, they could probably replicate his production for half the money or maybe a little more with someone like Wade Miley or Rick Porcello.

The Phillies won't close the door on any free agent, but don't be shocked if their splashiest move came before the Winter Meetings even began.

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