Philadelphia Phillies (66-96)
Additions: Carlos Santana, Tommy Hunter, Pat Neshek, Will Middlebrooks, Drew Hutchison, Jake Arrieta
Subtractions: Daniel Nava, Freddy Galvis
After spending another season buried far below the .500 mark, the Phillies used much of an otherwise painfully slow offseason to expedite their rebuild, in an effort to end their five-year stretch of losing records.
The busy offseason began with a change near the top of the pyramid, when the team named Gabe Kapler as the next manager. Kapler, who will manage a MLB game for the first time in his career come Opening Day, will bring an analytic approach to a Phillies organization that is looking to get caught up with the new baseball movement.
The team’s desire to move toward the new-school way of thinking hasn’t stopped them from spending the money at their disposal. After failing to push his way into the Giancarlo Stanton trade sweepstakes, general manager Matt Klentak made one of the biggest free agent splashes of the season when he inked first baseman Carlos Santana to a three-year, $60 million deal. The contract is the second-most expensive of the offseason for a position player behind J.D. Martinez’s five-year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox.
Klentak and the Phillies hope their struggling offense will make a big step forward with Santana in the lineup. Santana, who turns 32 in April, has made a living out of getting on base while providing some added pop to a lineup that ranked 27th in baseball last season in runs scored. Santana has bopped 57 home runs over the past two seasons.
The signing of Santana also means an inevitable move to the outfield for youngster Rhys Hoskins, who took the league by storm last summer when he enjoyed a home run hitting spree after being called up to the big leagues in August. Hoskins trailed off in the final month of the season when his batting average dipped from .304 to .220, but he still smacked seven homers in September/October. If he could continue to evolve into a bonafide power hitter, the Phillies will have a solid pair in the middle of their lineup, and hopefully cure their run-scoring troubles.
The Phillies were otherwise fairly quiet in terms of position player transactions, although the continued emergence of top second base prospect Scott Kingery means a shortstop battle could ensue in 2018 between J.P. Crawford and Cesar Hernandez. Hernandez has failed to evolve at the plate as a power hitter, but continues to hit for solid average while stealing over 15 bases in each of the past three seasons. He will have to beat out the youngster Crawford if he wants to be a part of the team’s future.
The bullpen saw two major additions with the signings of Tommy Hunter and Pat Neshek. Hunter finished with a respectable 2.61 ERA in 58 2⁄3 innings last season, and has settled in to a full-time reliever role after being tried out as a starter early in his career. Hunter’s success in the AL East’s hitter-friendly parks should make him a valuable addition to a Phillies’ bullpen that finished in the middle of the pack last season. The return of Neshek will should help even more. He earned his second career All-Star selection in 2017 and finished with a 1.59 ERA in 62 1⁄3 innings between the Phillies and Rockies.
The starting pitching staff received a huge boost last week with the signing of Jake Arrieta, the best remaining free agent on the market. After finishing the season 21st in the league in starting pitching ERA, The Phillies now sit with Arrieta and Aaron Nola leading a pitching staff that was loaded with question marks at the beginning of the month.
After Arrieta and Nola, the Phillies will likely have Vince Velasquez, Jerad Eickhoff and Nick Pivetta rounding out the rotation. Again, it’s hard to project how the back of the rotation will fare, but the Phillies are in much better position with Arrieta as the ace.
The Phillies are still in the process of a rebuild before potentially becoming big spenders in the winter of 2018, but have also put themselves in a position to significantly improve this season. Better times are certainly ahead for the franchise.