Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta

Eric Hartline / Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Santana, Arrieta will still add value to Phils

Tim Kelly
October 02, 2018 - 10:53 am

When the Philadelphia Phillies inked Carlos Santana and Jake Arrieta to lucrative three-year free-agent contracts last off-season, general manager Matt Klentak hoped that first and foremost, the Phillies were adding two productive stars to a team that hoped to return to playoff contention.

Related: With the Phillies season over, Joe Giglio thanks you

The Phillies were under no illusions that they were getting 2015 Jake Arrieta, who won the National League Cy Young Award while turning in a historically dominant season for the Chicago Cubs. Still, Arrieta had posted a 2.28 ERA after the All-Star Break in 2017, so the Phillies hoped to land that version of Arrieta, rather than the one who had posted a 4.35 ERA in the first-half of the season.

Santana, meanwhile, was someone that really fit the Phillies vision. While his signing pushed Rhys Hoskins to left field, his offensive approach—which mixes power with patience—is one that the Phillies covet. He also had World Series experience with Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians and is his character is constantly praised in league circles.

The Phillies didn't get the best-case scenario in terms of production from either Santana or Arrieta in their first seasons with the Phillies.

Santana’s batting average on balls in play of suggests he's hit into bad luck in 2018. But even though the extremely financially flexible Phillies slightly overpaid Santana annually to avoid having to guarantee him a fourth year, he's drawn criticism for the .229 batting average he totalled while making $17.25 million in 2018. In a perfect world, Santana would be a clubhouse leader for the Phillies that was a complimentary piece. With a young lineup that's probably a year and middle-of-the-order hitter away, more pressure was put on the 32-year-old’s shoulders in his first season in the National League.

Arrieta, meanwhile, was probably more disappointing in 2018.

Things weren’t all bad for the 32-year-old, as he posted an 0.90 ERA in 30 innings in May. Between his last start of July (against the Red Sox at Fenway Park) and his first start in August (against the Diamondbacks in Arizona), Arrieta allowed just nine hits and one earned run across 15 innings.

As general manager Matt Klentak pointed out at his season-ending press conference Tuesday, many of Arrieta’s season-ending numbers (his FIP, fWAR, total innings pitched), don’t look that different from what he posted in 2017. But make no mistake, the Phillies hoped to get the Arrieta that posted a 2.28 ERA in 12 starts after the All-Star Break in 2017. Instead, they more regularly got the version of Arrieta who posted a 4.35 ERA in 18 starts prior to the All-Star Break. In fact, after the All-Star Break in 2018, Arrieta contributed to the Phillies collapse, as he posted a 5.04 ERA in the second-half of the season. That made him part of the four-fifths of the Phillies rotation that posted an ERA north of five after the All-Star Break.

Suffice to say, neither Santana or Arrieta had perfect first seasons in Philadelphia. Still, their biggest organizational value may come off the field this offseason as recruiters of elite free-agent targets. Another byproduct of signing the duo last offseason was that it would signal to the rest of the league and future free-agents that the Phillies were serious about returning to contention. We’re nearing some of those future free-agents becoming available, and there are signs that the two have already been felt out by some potential free-agents.

“He [Manny Machado] told me he was aware the Phillies were interested in him,” Santana told Matt Gelb of The Athletic, “and he had some interest in signing with the Phillies.”

Santana added that he expects to hear from a variety of potential targets of the Phillies this offseason, specifically Machado, who he says he remains in contact with regularly.

It’s part of Santana’s value that doesn’t show up statistically. His batting average may have dropped 30 points from 2017, but Santana is viewed as one of the best clubhouse presences in baseball. Sure, some free-agents may ask Rhys Hoskins about the environment in Philadelphia, but the Phillies are all he’s ever know. Santana spent the past five seasons playing for Francona in Cleveland. He knows what a successful organization looks like, and as he hopes to help lure some potential free-agents to Philadelphia, he’ll have a ton of credibility to those considering joining the Phillies.

Arrieta, in many senses, is in a similar situation. He’s won a Cy Young Award. He helped the Cubs to end a 108-year World Series drought in 2016, at the expense of Santana’s Indians.  He played for Joe Maddon, a successful - though certainly unique - analytically driven manager. 2018 may have only been his first season in Philadelphia, but he’s very familiar with Klentak, Phillies president Andy MacPhail and Phillies assistant general manager Ned Rice from his time in Baltimore. Oh, and Arrieta was a teammate of Machado’s in Baltimore early in both of their respective careers. He’s also on a growing list of Phillies represented by Scott Boras, Bryce Harper’s agent.

The $25 million salary that Arrieta is due in 2019 is currently scheduled to be the most of any player on the Phillies roster. But he said some groundwork has already been laid - and will only intensify - as he hopes to play a role in luring a free-agent target that could make more money than him in 2019.

“A little bit,” Arrieta said to Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia when asked about whether he’s talked to potential free-agent targets. “Not necessarily at length yet because, you know, we’re all kind of still finishing up our seasons individually. And with respect to their current organizations we haven’t done a lot of talking, but just some chatter here and there, some friendly, 'Hey, it would be nice to have you next year.' That stuff happens. We’ll have some more serious conversations in the next couple of weeks, I’m sure.”

Arrieta will be with the Phillies in 2019, though it’s possible the Phillies will look externally to add a No. 2 starter behind All-Star Aaron Nola. Given the struggles that Hoskins had in left field in 2018, Santana’s future is less clear. Salisbury reported in September that the Phillies had internally considered dealing Santana, which would likely require them eating some of his $40 million plus remaining on his contract, to allow Hoskins to move back to first base. However, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports later added that while the Phillies are willing to consider trades of anyone besides Hoskins and Nola, Santana isn’t likely to be traded. Santana could remain at first base in 2019, or he could play at third base, where he started at 16 times in September. He could play some of both. The Phillies like Santana’s offensive approach and leadership, so they already probably felt inclined to find a way to keep him. If he could be a tool that allows them to make a franchise-altering free-agent signing, you can bet he’ll be with the team in 2019.

One of the more noteworthy things that Klentak said in his season-ending press conference Monday was that things aren’t always black-and-white. Perhaps the signings of Arrieta and Santana weren’t as simple as looking to upgrade the roster in 2017. The Phillies did (and still do) possess tremendous financial flexibility, so they did hope to improve by signing Arrieta and Santana. But as John Middleton said in Spring Training, the Phillies have had this offseason circled on their calendars for some time. So they may also have viewed Santana and Arrieta as two guys that could be weapons for them in what may be the most crucial offseason in franchise history.