SARASOTA, Fla. — Gabe Kapler approached Carlos Santana during batting practice. Santana knew Kapler was the bearer of good news.
“It felt like he was very happy,” Santana said. “He was smiling.”
You’d be smiling, too, if you were a first-year manager of an improving ballclub and your team just landed a former Cy Young winner to lead the starting rotation.
The Phillies’ offseason is now complete. General manager Matt Klentak signed Santana to bolster the offense and Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter to upgrade the bullpen. On Sunday, the club agreed to a three-year deal with former National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta. The deal is contingent on a physical.
Santana was thrilled to hear the news before the Phillies-Orioles Grapefruit League game.
“I feel great, I feel happy for him, happy for me and my team,” Santana said. “I think it's great. He'll help a lot so I'm happy that we have a very good player. We got better with him signing here. Everybody is surprised here, but we’re happy.”
Arrieta won the NL Cy Young in 2015 when he went 22-6 with a 1.77 ERA for the Chicago Cubs. A year later, he helped the Cubs beat Santana’s Cleveland Indians in the World Series. Santana went hitless in six at-bats and struck out twice against Arrieta in the Series.
At 32, Arrieta will be the elder statesman of the Phillies rotation. He will be counted on to guide some of the young pitchers such as Aaron Nola, Jerad Eickhoff, Vince Velasquez and Nick Pivetta.
“A guy like that, he’s really good for an up and coming team like ours with a lot of young pitchers,” Pivetta said after pitching 4 2/3 innings against the Orioles Sunday night. “I think he can have a lot of impact on our young pitchers, whatever the rotation is going to be. I think a guy like that is going to be good. I think it’s a smart move.”
It was not immediately clear when Arrieta would arrive in Clearwater or where he is in his preparation for the regular season, which begins in less than three weeks. He is a conditioning freak who has been working out and throwing. Kapler has already anointed Nola as his opening day starter. It’s unlikely Kapler would alter that 18 days before the opener.
But Kapler is no doubt enthused about having Arrieta.
“If Jake Arrieta is a Phillie, of course, I’m going to be exceptionally excited," he said. "I love everything about the guy. The crossfire delivery creates all kinds of deception. We all know about the success he had in Chicago. It would be awesome if Jake ends up a Phillie.
“Speaking hypothetically, he’s a tremendous leader and obviously the track record of success – I don’t want to curb any enthusiasm here, he would be an incredible boost to our rotation here and a great leader in the clubhouse.”
Back at the start of spring training, Kapler said he thought the Phillies were putting together a team that could shock people. With Arrieta, expectations will be heightened.
“I think it would make us a better team and I thought we were a really good team before,” Kapler said. “I think it will create a tremendous amount of excitement in the clubhouse, I think it would make us better between the lines, and I think the city of Philadelphia would be exceptionally excited, as well.”