Carlos Santana leaves behind as polarizing an on-field legacy as a 1-year Philly athlete can

Carlos Santana is gone. 

And though he was here only one year, he left behind one of the most polarizing on-field legacies of any Phillie in recent memory.

Santana made a lot of money in 2018 — $10 million in the form of a signing bonus, $15 million more in salary. Great expectations from fans tend to follow when a player is paid that much. 

Yet like everything else about Santana’s season, the context and nuance are important. It may be more fun to yell, “He sucks, he wasn’t worth the money,” and it’s certainly a way to get more pageviews or to pander to some online commenters. But he didn’t suck. He just wasn’t worth the money.

The Phillies’ front office itself would probably tell you Santana wasn’t worth $20 million a year. They paid him that for three reasons: They had the money, they wanted him to commit quickly, and they sought a way to lengthen the lineup.

Santana did make the Phillies’ lineup better in 2018. No, he wasn’t a top-10 first baseman, but it’s disingenuous to act like there was no production. 

Santana played 161 games for the Phillies. He hit .229 with a .352 on-base percentage, 24 homers and 86 RBI. His .766 OPS was 5 percent higher than the league average.

With runners in scoring position, Santana had a .389 OBP. With a runner on third and less than two outs, he hit .370. When the bases were loaded, he went 5 for 9 with a grand slam and a bases-clearing triple.

Santana wasn’t worthless the way many in this city portrayed him every day for six straight months. If he was, the Mariners wouldn’t have agreed to take him on in the Jean Segura trade. If Santana was worthless, he’d be viewed as merely a bad contract and the Mariners would have held out for a different sort of deal.

Some will label the Santana signing a colossal mistake. If it was a colossal mistake, then why was it so easy for Phillies GM Matt Klentak to get out from under it in less than a year? Shouldn’t that be the most telling factor of all?

The Phillies, a year ago, needed offense and tried something unorthodox by filling a position — first base — that was already filled. The best-case scenario would have involved Rhys Hoskins playing passable, Pat Burrell-like defense in left field and Santana’s offense outweighing any fielding concerns.

Santana provided some offense but not enough to outweigh the defensive concerns. And Hoskins, after looking OK in left field late in 2017, was not effective there in 2018, grading out as the majors’ worst defensive left fielder in 15 years.

With Segura now rather than Santana, the Phillies’ roster makes so much more sense. In fact, because Santana led to Segura, it’s hard to say the Phils lost much of anything through the whole process.

Could’ve been worse. Imagine rooting for the team that gave Chris Davis $161 million, Jason Heyward $184 million or Jordan Zimmermann $110 million. Questionable contracts are handed out by numerous teams every offseason. A mistake can’t be so bad if it’s so easily fixed. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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