- There is very little chance of Chase Utley returning to the Phillies, MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki writes. Whether Utley returns for a 16th MLB season or retires, Zolecki figures Utley will remain on the west coast, either staying at home or playing for the Dodgers. Zolecki also refutes a report that Utley was a candidate to become the Phillies’ bench coach, noting that Utley wasn’t even under consideration for the job before the team eventually hired Rob Thomson.
- Also agreeing to a minor-league pact is righty Pedro Beato, who Heyman tweets will remain with the Phillies. Beato, 31, returned to the majors in 2017 with the Phils for the first time since 2014. He only received a single appearance, though. In 55 2/3 innings at Lehigh Valley, Beato posted a 2.75 ERA — his third-straight season with excellent results at the highest level of the minors. Of course, Beato also averaged a less-than-dominant 6.8 K/9 against 3.2 BB/9, with his success coming in no small part due to some batted ball fortune (.233 BABIP, 5.2% HR/FB rate) that he likely would not carry with him to the majors.
Phillies owner John Middleton believes that his team is ready to start winning again, Mike Sielski writes in an article for Philly.com. It appears as though the franchise is actively looking to end its five-year run of fourth- and fifth-place finishes, based on some of Middleton’s comments about their budget and spending plans. Here’s what he had to say following a news conference introducing recent signee Carlos Santana.
Yeah, I think we’re close. They came to us with a budget, and we said, ‘Guys, if you want to put that number in for the budget, that’s fine, but don’t live with that. If something comes up, and it breaks the bank relative to the budget, and you don’t pursue it, we’re going to be upset.’ And they know that.
Sielski writes that Middleton wants to spend money, and doesn’t want the “small-market, too-thrifty label that the franchise slapped on itself a generation ago.” Middleton certainly isn’t the type of owner that has tremendous patience for losing, but the piece sheds some light on how he views the team’s rebuilding process. In a colorful analogy, he compares the team’s progress to a duck swimming on top of water. While the Phillies haven’t been making much progress on the surface, there’s certainly been a furious process underneath that’s not visible to the public eye.
A large part of that process has come in the way of a typical rebuild for a baseball team: trade away current major-league assets for future potential, accept a losing record and the high draft picks that come with it, and be patient throughout the process while focusing efforts on the development of future stars. But another significant part of the club’s rebuild has come in the form of a transformation of the way the club operates. As Sielski notes, the team has focused on creating and maintaining a successful analytics department.
Indeed, the organization has made some changes to their front office in recent years that reflect a shift in baseball philosophy. For example, in January of 2016, the club gave major promotions to two analytically-minded members of its staff. Scott Freedman, who was hired as a baseball analytics manager in 2013, was made director of baseball operations. They also promoted talented analytics intern Lewis Pollis, then 23 years old, to a a full time role in baseball research development. Pollis is a graduate of Brown University whose senior thesis on MLB front office personnel was published by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and widely-read throughout the baseball industry.
The above moves and more are evidence of Philadelphia’s “underwater” moves to push the club towards sustainable success for the long-term. It seems as though Middleton’s comments and the Santana signing are major signals that the Phillies are ready to come out the other side of their rebuild. Budding stars such as Rhys Hoskins, Aaron Nola, Jorge Alfaro and others look primed to lead the club towards a winning season at long last, and a number of highly-touted prospects in the club’s farm system should keep them in contention for years to come. As Sielski points out, the timing is great for them; the Marlins are entering a full teardown of the major league roster, the Mets appear unwilling to spend big, and the Nationals may be nearing the end of their window of contention. Even the Braves, who are beginning to look good at the MLB level, just watched their farm system and front office get thrown into disarray after former GM John Coppolella circumvented MLB’s international signing rules.
Perhaps most significantly, Middleton describes the asking prices for Chris Archer and Gerrit Cole as “an arm and a leg.” While fact that the Rays and Pirates are asking a lot for their starting pitchers doesn’t come as a surprise, the news that the Phillies GM Matt Klentak has been involved in discussions for those players points to a genuine desire to get back in the mix for an NL East pennant. It’s clear that an acquisition of Archer or Cole would involve giving up significant assets for a major-leaguer with only two years of team control remaining. Of course, it’s easily possible that inquiries on these pitchers were simply due diligence, but a particular quote from the conference suggests that the Phillies would move on one of them at the right price. “I’ve got a deal over here, and it’s a bad deal,” Middleton said, quoting Klentak “I think if I tweaked it this way, it would be a good deal. I’d be willing to do this deal, not their deal.”
I recently noted in MLBTR’s offseason outlook for the Phillies that their rebuilding process had begun to bear fruit and that they looked to be on the rise. But signing Santana to a three-year deal and exploring trades for pitchers who become free agents after 2019 both reveal an aggressive, win-now mindset. With this information in mind, the rest of the offseason carries an added level of suspense for Phillies fans. It will be fascinating to see what other moves they make in an attempt to add wins in the short term.
- While the above-noted third baggers have drawn most of the attention this winter, another — Maikel Franco of the Phillies — has also been chatted about here and there. At present, though, there’s no indication that the Philadelphia front office is willing to give up Franco’s upside when his value has ebbed; indeed, Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com tweets that a rival executive has been left with the impression the Phils won’t sell low on the talented youngster.
DECEMBER 20: The Phillies have announced the deal. Sanchez has the full breakdown (via Twitter): Santana receives a $10MM signing bonus, with annual salaries of $15MM, $17MM, and $17.5MM. The math would suggest that there’s a $500K buyout on the option year.
DECEMBER 15, 1:28pm: Santana’s contract is still pending a physical, tweets Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. Salisbury also tweets that Hoskins will indeed play a significant amount of left field, freeing up the possibility of the trade of an outfielder. Aaron Altherr and Nick Williams had been slotted in as the Phillies’ corner outfielders, with Odubel Herrera lined up as the center fielder.
12:52pm: Jesse Sanchez of MLB.com reports that Santana’s deal also comes with a $17.5MM club option for a fourth season (Twitter link).
12:32pm: In a surprising move, the Phillies have agreed to a deal with first baseman Carlos Santana, reports FanRag’s Jon Heyman (Twitter links). It’s a hefty three-year, $60MM contract, according to Heyman. Santana is represented by Octagon.
Philadelphia has been linked to Santana on multiple occasions, though it’s long seemed like a curious fit given the emergence of Rhys Hoskins as the presumptive starter at first base. However, the Phils deployed Hoskins in left field last season, and he turned in passable results in a small sample of 237 innings there (-1 Defensive Runs Saved, scratch defense per Ultimate Zone Rating).
The Phillies could opt to continue utilizing Hoskins in the outfield in order to get Santana’s bat into the lineup. Santana does have 225 innings of experience at third base, though he received poor defensive ratings there, and his superlative glovework at first base is a significant component in his value. Santana, of course, broke into the Majors as a catcher but hasn’t suited up behind the dish since the 2014 season and hasn’t played more than 100 innings there since 2013, owing in part due to concussion issues.
[Related: Updated Philadelphia Phillies depth chart]
Santana jumps out as the most significant position player to come off the board and does so in impressive fashion, matching the dollars that his now-former teammate, Edwin Encarnacion, received with the Indians just one offseason ago. Santana landed a considerably stronger average annual value than many pundits predicted — MLBTR pegged him at three years and $45MM in total on our Top 50 free agent list — though the Phillies likely had to pay a premium to convince a top-tier free agent to sign with a club that has spent the past several seasons rebuilding.
The 31-year-old Santana (32 in April) should play no small part in helping the Phils further their efforts to return to contention in the National League East, though. He’s coming off a strong .259/.363/.455 batting line in 667 plate appearances last season and turned in a career year in 2016 when he hit .259/.366/.498 with 34 homers.
Overall, the switch-hitting Santana has turned in a .363 OBP in nearly 4600 plate appearances since establishing himself as a Major League regular back in 2011, averaging 153 games played and 24 homers per season along the way. One would think that a move to a much more hitter-friendly environment, Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park, should help to improve his power output as well (though his .196 ISO in that time is already plenty strong).
Because Santana rejected a one-year, $17.4MM qualifying offer from the Indians, he comes with draft compensation in the form of the Phillies’ second-highest draft pick — in this case, their second-round pick — and a $500K hit to their 2018-19 international bonus pool. The Phils will lose not only that second-round pick, but also the slot money that would’ve come along with it, thus noticeably shrinking next year’s draft pool.
The Indians, meanwhile, will secure a compensatory pick between the end of the first round and the start of Competitive Balance Round A due to the fact that Santana’s contract exceeded $50MM in total guarantees.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.
- Catcher Eric Fryer is heading to the Phillies on a minors deal with a spring invite, Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic reports on Twitter. Now 32 years of age, Fryer has seen action in each of the past seven MLB campaigns but has only once topped one hundred plate appearances. He spent last year as a little-used backup in St. Louis. Overall, Fryer carries a .232/.320/.300 batting line in his major-league career.
The Phillies have been aggressively shopping for controllable pitching this winter, as the team has “inquired on just about every young starter that could be traded this winter,” Matt Gelb and Matt Breen of Philly.com report. This list of targets include their previously-reported interest in Chris Archer, and the Phillies also checked in with the Blue Jays about Marcus Stroman and the Royals about Danny Duffy.
It’s clear that Philadelphia is looking to take its rebuild to the next level, after signing Carlos Santana and even adding veteran relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek on multi-year contracts. The rotation remains a major need for the club — Aaron Nola is the only member of a young projected starting five that looks like a solid bet for 2018. It has been expected that the Phillies would try to land at least one veteran innings-eater this winter, though they’re apparently also setting their sights higher for a pitcher that could contribute when the team returns to contention.
Of the two new names mentioned in the Phillies’ search, Stroman is by far the less likely to be available. The Jays are planning to contend in 2018, and moving Stroman would be an even bigger indicator of a total rebuild than even a trade of Josh Donaldson, given that Donaldson is only under contract for one more season. Stroman, by contrast, still has three years of arbitration eligibility remaining. MLBTR projects him to earn $7.2MM this winter through the arb process, and while Stroman’s price tag will continue to grow through his arbitration years, Toronto will happily shoulder that cost if Stroman keeps producing as he did in 2017. Stroman posted a 3.09 ERA, 7.3 K/9, 2.65 K/BB rate and a league-best 62.1% grounder rate over 201 innings, cracking the 200-inning threshold for the second consecutive season.
Duffy, on the other hand, has already drawn a lot of trade attention this winter, with the Cubs, Yankees, and Orioles reportedly among the teams interested. The Royals seem to be on the verge of a rebuild given all of their expected free agent losses, though they aren’t yet “aggressively shopping” Duffy’s services. It was just 11 months ago that K.C. locked Duffy up on a five-year, $65MM extension with the hope that he would be one of the cornerstone pieces of the next era of Royals baseball, though it remains to be seen just how extensive a rebuild the Royals may have in mind. If the team hopes to reload over a year or two, Duffy will still be an asset for when Kansas City aims to once again open a contention window.
If a longer rebuild is necessary, the $60MM remaining on Duffy’s contract makes him a logical trade chip. The Phillies certainly have the open payroll space to accommodate his salary; Santana, Neshek, Hunter, and Odubel Herrera are the only players beyond the 2018 season. Philadelphia has widely been expected to target the top stars of next year’s free agent class, though the team has gotten a jump-start on that plan now by landing Santana. Given the Phillies’ payroll flexibility, they could try to land their desired pitching help by offering to take another big and/or undesirable contract off the the other team’s hands with little prospect capital going back in return. (In the Royals’ case, for instance, the Phillies could offer to take on Ian Kennedy’s deal in order to land Duffy.)
Nationals third baseman Anthony Rendon implied to Chelsea Janes of the Washington Post and other reporters Sunday that he’d be open to discussing an extension with the team (Twitter link). “Why not stay with one organization?” said Rendon, who has been a member of the franchise since it chose him sixth overall in the 2011 draft. The Scott Boras client has turned into an elite-level player since then, and he’s only two years away from free agency (he’ll make a projected $11.5MM in 2018). Unsurprisingly, general manager Mike Rizzo suggested earlier this week that the Nats would be interested in locking up Rendon before he’s able to leave.
More on Washington and two of its division rivals:
- The Mets’ front office enters each offseason “flying blind,” without an exact idea of how much money is available to spend, Marc Carig of Newsday reports. Carig reached out via email to Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon to discuss the team’s payroll, but the executive declined comment through a spokesman. As a result, Carig goes on to criticize the Mets for a lack of transparency and accountability, an unwillingness to spend like the huge-market team they are, and their almost nonexistent scouting presence in the Pacific Rim and Cuba.
- Even with Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek now aboard, the Phillies may not contend for a playoff spot in 2018. However, those signings are credibility-building moves that will help the team make progress in the win-loss column next season, thus making it a more attractive option for premier free agents in a year, Matt Gelb of Philly.com observes. According to Gelb, the club has done a lot of planning around next winter’s class, one that’s currently slated to include Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and other superstars.
- Reliever Brandon Kintzler turned down offers to close elsewhere to return to the Nationals as a setup man, Rizzo revealed Sunday (Twitter link via Mark Zuckerman of MASNsports.com). “Part of the thing we like most about him is he’s about the name on the front of the jersey, more so than the name on the back,” Rizzo said. More on Kintzler from Mike Berardino of the Pioneer Press, who reports (Twitter link) that the righty’s agent, Kevin Kohler, asked Rizzo during negotiations if he’d re-up Kintzler to a one-year, $5MM contract. Rizzo said he would, but he expressed doubt that Kintzler would accept that. Kintzler’s camp then responded with a two-year, $15MM proposal. In the end, the sides settled on a two-year agreement with a $10MM guarantee and a chance for $6MM million more in incentives.
- The Giants expressed some interest in Phillies third baseman Maikel Franco at the Winter Meetings, per Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia (Twitter link). It’s unclear, though, whether the two sides engaged in any substantive talks. The 25-year-old Franco’s value clearly isn’t at its peak, as he has fallen flat since a terrific 80-game debut in 2015. He’s now coming off a season in which he hit a woeful .230/.281/.409 in 623 plate appearances. Franco will try to rebound in 2018, his first of four potential arbitration years (he’ll earn a projected $3.6MM).
The Astros and Phillies have interest in Rays right-hander Chris Archer, joining a slew of previously reported clubs, per Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The Rays clearly wouldn’t have any trouble finding a taker for Archer, thanks to his track record, age (29) and team-friendly contract (four years, $34MM). Teammate and face of the franchise Evan Longoria, the Rays’ longtime third baseman, is three years older than Archer and costs far more (a guaranteed $86MM over a half-decade). But that doesn’t seem to be a prohibitive price tag, as the three-time All-Star is drawing some interest from the division-rival Yankees as well as the Giants, Mets and previously reported Cardinals, according to Topkin.