With the Phillies’ rebuild advancing and nearing completion, this past winter was the first time in Matt Klentak’s three offseasons as GM that it made sense to go out and spend the organization’s money.
Klentak’s first winter, for example, the only player the Phillies signed to a major-league contract was reliever David Hernandez.
His second offseason, the biggest moves were bringing in Howie Kendrick, Michael Saunders, Pat Neshek and Clay Buchholz. Not exactly a needle-moving series of moves there.
This past offseason, though, Klentak committed just under $170 million to four veterans to help bolster a club that played promising baseball the final two months of 2017.
A couple of the moves have already paid dividends. A couple of them don’t look great 2½ months into the season.
With the benefit of hindsight, let’s take a look back at the contracts to figure out whether the Phillies would still have put pen to paper if they knew then what they know now:
Jake Arrieta — 3 years, $75 million
The Phillies would still make this move today, as would several other teams.
There were only five starting pitchers last offseason to get more than two years: Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Alex Cobb, Tyler Chatwood and Mike Minor.
The Cubs chose not to pay Arrieta but instead commit $164 million combined to Darvish and Chatwood. Darvish could be out until July with a triceps injury, and Chatwood has walked 56 batters in 58⅓ innings.
Cobb received $57 million over four years from the Orioles and has been a massive disappointment, going 2-8 with a 7.23 ERA and 1.77 WHIP in 11 starts.
Arrieta has been as advertised, though. He wasn’t great his last time out, but even after allowing four earned runs to the Brewers, his ERA is 2.97 in a dozen starts.
Arrieta’s strikeout rate this season is the lowest it’s been since 2004, his rookie season with the Orioles. He’s punched out just 6.2 batters per nine innings. But he’s made up for it with the second-highest groundball rate in the majors and a league-high 14 double plays behind him. No other National League pitcher has induced more than 11 double plays. Allowing a lot of contact isn’t a bad thing when it’s mostly soft contact.
Arrieta has also made an impact on the Phillies’ rotation on days he doesn’t pitch.
Pat Neshek — 2 years, $16.25 million
Neshek has been effective every year since 2012. The problem is the Phillies have paid him more than $16 million the last two seasons and gotten just 40⅓ innings out of him (and three prospects via trade).
Neshek has not pitched all season. There’s no definitive timetable for his return either. It’s encouraging that he’s been able to throw a few bullpen sessions over the last two weeks but at this point, it doesn’t seem all that likely he’s back in June.
If the Phillies knew Neshek would be out at least half the season, they wouldn’t have signed him for $16.25 million. The saying goes, “there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal,” but it is bad when a two-year deal effectively becomes a one-year deal because of injury.
The Phillies are hoping that isn’t the case, because the different look Neshek offers would be a huge help in this bullpen.
The signing made a ton of sense at the time but just hasn’t worked out.
Carlos Santana — 3 years, $60 million
If all you’re interested in is Santana’s batting average, I’d suggest you stop reading here. That’s just not how he should be evaluated.
Santana has hit .221/.342/.432 this season with 15 doubles, 10 homers and 37 RBI. He’s walked more (42) than he’s struck out (37). Since May 4, he has a .964 OPS.
Some Phillies fans disliked this signing from the outset because they felt it took playing time away from one of the young outfielders, with Rhys Hoskins moving to left field full time. But the simple fact is that Santana is a more productive offensive player than Aaron Altherr, Nick Williams and Dylan Cozens, especially right now and probably over the life of his three-year deal.
He’s made the Phils’ offense better. If not for Santana’s tremendous month of May, this team’s fade would have occurred much sooner. They wouldn’t be three games over .500 at this point.
If the Phillies had a high payroll or were close to the luxury tax threshold, $20 million per season for Santana might be a bit excessive. But his contract won’t prohibit them from making any other future moves, and so far they’ve gotten what they’ve expected out of the first baseman (save for a few more errors).
Tommy Hunter — 2 years, $18 million
The only four relievers league-wide who received bigger contracts last offseason than Hunter were Wade Davis, Brandon Morrow, Jake McGee and Bryan Shaw.
So far, Hunter hasn’t provided what the Phillies expected. Because of a hamstring injury, his first appearance didn’t come until the Phillies’ 21st game. In 20 appearances, he has a 4.32 ERA.
Part of the reason the Phillies liked Hunter was his ability to retire lefties with his cutter. That’s a meaningful trait for a team that lacks a true a left-on-left reliever. Lefties have hit .257 with a .687 OPS against Hunter, which isn’t great but is better than you’d want from your de facto lefty specialist. Righties have hit .306.
Hunter hasn’t been a disaster — 14 of his 20 outings have been scoreless — he just hasn’t provided the value you need when signing a reliever to a relatively expensive contract.
If the Phillies knew Seranthony Dominguez and Edubray Ramos would emerge like they have and that Hunter and Neshek wouldn’t play meaningful roles through 40 percent of the season, they probably would have gone a cheaper route.
Two out of four isn’t bad, though, especially when the two signings who have “hit” were the two biggest ones.