By JED WEISBERGER
PHILADELPHIA – Over the winter, the Philadelphia Phillies showed they were serious by signing first baseman Carlos Santana, relievers Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek and starting pitcher Jake Arrieta, spending $169.2 million in the process.
Santana, at 32, brings a valuable veteran presence to one of the youngest teams in baseball, which, heading into play April 20, had won eight of its last 10 to carve a surprising 11-7 mark. He was lured from the Cleveland Indians with a 3-year, $60-million deal.
Although Arrieta turned in a gem against the Pittsburgh Pirates April 19 – and certainly will stabilize a young pitching staff led by Aaron Nola and Nick Pivetta – it is Santana who will affect matters the most through 2020.
“I just want to help the young guys here,’’ said Santana. “This (Philadelphia) is my home now. Cleveland is in the past.
“We have a lot of talented young players here, and I am excited to be part of this.’’
Santana, as the Yankees’ Giancarlo Stanton, switching leagues, has not started quickly, batting just .141 (9-for-64) with a pair of homers and 10 RBIs in his first 16 games.
It is an adjustment.
“I do have to learn all new pitchers in this (National) League,’’ Santana said. “It’s something I just have to get done.’’
What Santana’s signing did was force the move of talented 25-year-old slugger Rhys Hoskins from first base to left field, which gave the Phils, with Odúbel Herrera, primarily a center fielder, having two other talented corner outfielders in Nick Williams, who came in the Cole Hamels trade, and Aaron Altherr, a bit of a jam.
Williams showed his frustration a few weeks ago when he found himself as the odd-man-out, despite hitting .288 (90-for-313) with 12 homers and 55 RBIs in 83 games in 2017. Phillies manager Gabe Kapler handled that issue well, and Williams has hit .270 (10-for-370 in his last 15 games.
“I had a heart-to-heart with Nick,’’ said Kapler. “He’s a very talented athlete. I want all our players to want to play.’’
Performance also helped to solve the issue, as Altherr, hitting just .086 (9-for-35) in his last 15 games has found playing time a bit more limited, though Kapler has done a solid job getting all his outfielders into parts of games.
Hoskins, who is off to a .327 (18-for-55) start, with three homers and 14 RBIs, has left field in his care – he can also fill on at first base when needed after bashing 18 home runs in 50 games on 2017, while Herrera is sparkling offensively at .333 (22-for-66).
What this shows is how the Phillies have accelerated their rebuilding and the organization’s willingness to spend and add chips. Rookie infielder Scott Kingery, signed to a 6-year, $24 million contract, is another emerging talent.
And this is just the start of the Phillies building depth. Armed with a new $2 billion TV contract, there is little doubt the club will be a factor in the chase for outfielder Bryce Harper and infielder Manny Machado next winter. Some talent could also be traded to bolster pitching.
“I came here knowing we can win,’’ said Santana.
A lot of others will be blessed with that knowledge over the next few years.