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Phillies sign Carlos Santana to 3-year, $60 million contract

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The Phillies are finally acting like a big-market team again.

Cleveland Indians v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Hunter Martin/Getty Images

Carlos Santana has signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, according to a report from Jon Heyman, and the deal is for three years and $60 million. The switch-hitting first baseman will play in the National League for the first time, and the Phillies have their biggest free agent since Cliff Lee.

We’ve known for a long time that the Phillies could afford a larger payroll than what they’ve been paying for, and it was just a matter of time before they started spending like the big-market team they’ve always been. The only questions were how they were going to use the money and when they were going to start.

This is at least a partial answer. Santana is a 31-year-old switch-hitter who has been remarkably consistent over the last several years. He’s accrued at least 600 plate appearances in every season since 2011, and his on-base percentage has been between .351 and .377 in each of those seasons. The only thing that has fluctuated has been his power, really, but he’s back in the 20-plus homer category now, which is where he’s likely to stay.

After spending most of his 2016 season as a DH, Santana had a surprisingly OK year with the glove at first base, and the defensive metrics didn’t hate him. It’s still a risk for an NL team to get him without the safety net of the DH, but it’s the bat that the Phillies are interested in, and their lineup is unquestionably better today than it was yesterday.

There is some downside in the Phillies losing their second-round pick and $500,000 in international bonus money, though. Because the Phillies weren’t very good last year, they were going to be picking high in that second round. It’s not the ideal situation for a team that still wants to accumulate as many prospects as possible.

If there’s a surprise with this deal, it’s that Rhys Hoskins will apparently be a full-time outfielder. The rookie was a little rough in the outfield, but the Santana signing would suggest that it’s his permanent home now. The incumbent first baseman, Tommy Joseph, is almost certainly out of a job now.

The move makes sense on a couple of levels, even if the Phillies still lost 96 games last year and aren’t exactly thought of as contenders. But now what? They can count on Hoskins to fill a huge gap in the lineup all year, and we’re used to Cesar Hernandez and Odubel Herrera being solid-to-excellent. Nick Williams wasn’t overmatched at all last year, and they can fold in Jorge Alfaro seamlessly, even if both players have classic young player problems with their plate discipline.

This ... this could work.

On the other hand, the Phillies still need to figure out their pitching, and what was supposed to be the reliable strength of the team is something of a mess right now. Jerad Eickhoff and Vince Velasquez aren’t proven major leaguers yet, apparently, and there’s still a lot of work to be done before the Phillies can prevent runs like a postseason team.

They might be able to hit like one sooner than later, though. With the Phillies also spending money on Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter, it looks like they’re very much interested in being relevant next year. There are still free agent pitchers out there, and now that the second-round pick is already gone, they might be prepared to make even bolder moves.

For now, though, the Phillies have given a short-term, big-money deal to someone who makes the lineup better, and the money isn’t that important because there aren’t any contract decisions they have to make soon with their young players. There are ways to turn this team around within a season, and only some of them involve hoping for bounce-back seasons.

This ... this could work?

Well, I’ll be. This could work. The first step was to shore up the bullpen, and the second one was to get an extremely reliable hitter for the middle of the order. It’s been a while since the Phillies used their financial resources. This isn’t a bad start to the new era.