We haven’t heard much yet in the way of free agent rumors — first commenter to say the words “Harper’s Bazaar” gets banned — but Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic dropped a doozy on us early Monday morning. The Philadelphia Phillies have reportedly been “shopping the hell” out of first baseman Carlos Santana.
Detroit Tigers fans may recognize Santana as “that guy who used to hit all those dingers off Justin Verlander,” and, well, you aren’t wrong. Santana spent eight seasons with the Cleveland Indians before signing with the Phillies as a free agent last winter, and the Phils are already looking to move on from the 32-year-old Dominican slugger.
Before we get too far, let’s file this one under “probably not going to happen.” Santana is just a year removed from being a fairly well-regarded hitter on the free agent market, one that warranted a $60 million price tag from the same Phillies that are now shopping him. Philadelphia’s motivation to move Santana seems tied to roster flexibility — Rosenthal notes that the Phillies want to move Rhys Hoskins to first base — not a desire to get out from his $41 million owed in salary over the next two seasons. They will likely want to land some actual assets in return, not just dump Santana’s contract for nothing.
That said, this is the exact type of scenario the Tigers should be looking to exploit this offseason. Even with just two years remaining — and a $17.5 million team option for 2021 — Santana’s contract is a bit of an albatross. Most teams looking to deal for him will want some sort of salary relief included, which the Phillies may or may not be willing to pay, depending on how much they might owe to a shiny new free agent signing. The Tigers don’t appear all that ready to spend any money, but could use some of their financial might to essentially buy a prospect or two in exchange for taking on Santana’s contract.
Santana’s value also may not be that high. He will be entering his age-33 season in 2019, and hit a solid-but-not-great .229/.352/.414 in 679 plate appearances last season. There was some bad luck involved in that line — his .231 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was more than 30 points lower than his career average — but he is:
(a) a poor defender who is all but limited to first base
(b) entering his mid-30s
(c) owed $20 million per year in both 2019 and 202
Yes, this sounds exactly like the kind of player the Tigers have done everything possible to rid themselves of over the past few years. But if Santana comes with a decent prospect or other player of value, his presence on the actual roster could be a benefit. He would instantly be one of Detroit’s best hitters, and potentially a valuable veteran presence in a clubhouse somewhat lacking on that front now. His contract could also turn into a trade asset as he gets closer to free agency in 2020 — the market for positionless sluggers hasn’t been great lately, but maybe he could net something else at the deadline at that time.
As for the prospect(s) Detroit could land in return? I’m just as good at perusing MLB Pipeline’s top 30 list as you are. They certainly won’t land Sixto Sanchez or Alec Bohm, but could land a high-upside flyer like Cornelius Randolph — Philadelphia’s 2015 first round pick who hasn’t found his power stroke yet — or a KATOH darling like Dylan Cozens or Kyle Young.
Once again, this move seems unlikely. We have been advocating for the Tigers to spend money in some fashion ad nauseam over the past couple weeks, but asking ownership to spend $40 million on a non-elite prospect or two is a tough ask, even in the Tigers’ current situation.