Carlos Santana is trading Polish Boys for cheesesteaks, looks like, agreeing this afternoon on a three-year, $60 million deal (with an option for a fourth, at $17.5 million) to join the Phillies. The deal probably makes sense from a money standpoint, and Santana is a really good switch-hitting slugger with power and patience, but… does it make sense from the Phillies’ perspective?
If you estimate the cost of a win to be $8 million this offseason, assume that inflation is roughly 5% a year, and use Santana’s projected wins total for 2018 while adding a generic aging curve, you arrive at an estimated value of $68 million for three years of the first baseman. And that might even be on the light side: a win might actually be worth more like $9 million now. So, even though our own readers predicted a median deal of three years and $45 million for Santana, this actual real-life deal is reasonable.
|2018||32||3.2||$8.0 M||$25.6 M|
|2019||33||2.7||$8.4 M||$22.7 M|
|2020||34||2.2||$8.8 M||$19.4 M|
Value: $8M/WAR with 5.0% inflation (for first 5 years)
Aging Curve: +0.25 WAR/yr (18-27), 0 WAR/yr (28-30),-0.5 WAR/yr (31-37),-0.75 WAR/yr (> 37)
From a talent perspective, Santana has the types of skills — good discipline, at least — that should help him age gracefully at the plate even as the rest of his athleticism wanes. He’s been a top-40 hitter since he started getting regular playing time, he’s slugged in what is mostly a pitcher’s park, and some of his best years have come recently.
It’s hard not to like this deal. For any other team, that is — or, at least one that needed a slugger and was closer to contention. But the Phillies have just handed out a contract to an aging slugger who plays at the same position as their top young core player at a time when their perceived needs are more on the other side of the ball and the team is projected to win 76 games. It seems strange.
Let’s handle the concerns in order. It is true that Rhys Hoskins was penciled in at first, with Tommy Joseph behind him. But Hoskins is 24 years old and played 30 games in left last year without embarrassing himself. Even the advanced stats with a more negative appraisal of his fielding — Statcast’s Outs Above Average assessed him -2 defensive runs in limited time — don’t suggest he’ll be incapable of handling the outfield for a few years. Corner outfielders closest to him in the rankings — Kole Calhoun and Hunter Pence — aren’t moving off the corner outfield any time soon. It is a counting stat, so maybe he’s worse than that ranking, but it’s hard to tell. He missed eight catches last year and four of them were five-star chances (catches made 0-25%) and three of them were two-star (76-90%). He’s probably not good, but maybe he’s not terrible.
Even without a trade of an existing outfielder, this current lineup can work. Aaron Altherr is a righty, Nick Williams is a lefty, and between injuries and playing in American League parks, there are probably enough plate appearances to keep everyone developing and happy.
And there actually is a need at the plate. As much promise as the Phillies’ lineup possesses, they ended up with just the eleventh-best adjusted offense in the National League last year. Their pitching actually ranked higher. Getting better is getting better, anyway.
Now, about the timing. Travis Sawchick wondered earlier this offseason when the club might open their competitive window, but everyone knew the Phillies had money to spend and that it was simply a question of when they’d spend it. Does this signing keep them out of the bonanza for the very best players next year?
It’s hard to know a team’s actual budget, but we do know that the Phillies are in a major market and have run payrolls above $170 million in the past. With Santana’s money on the docket and generous estimations for arbitration raises, the Phillies are up to… $66 million for next year. They can still get in on Bryce Harper next year if they want. They can still buy a couple pitchers if they want. They have a lot left to spend.
But getting Harper to come to Philadelphia requires some winning. Getting that big free agent to come to town requires at least the feeling that everything is going in the right direction. So, even though the team is maybe now projected to win 75 games, that doesn’t matter. They’ve gotten closer to being able to land a big free agent, not further away.
Get the guys who will agree to take your money and will come on reasonable deals first. Improve anywhere you can. Fit them into the team any way you can without blocking core players from developing. Hope those core players like Maikel Franco and J.P. Crawford get better. Push the boulder up the hill. And then maybe the biggest free agent in 2018 or 2019 will look your way and say, “Hold on, wait, when did the Phillies get this good? “
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.