Just this week the Phillies made headlines, signing coveted free agent Carlos Santana to a lucrative for three year contract. Few experts had considered Philadelphia, who has been in a rebuilding phase for the past few seasons, among the teams to land a big free agent.
After all, the club began shedding its heavy contracts a few seasons ago, trading or releasing All-Stars such as Jimmy Rollins, Chase Utley and Ryan Howard. The team had reached the postseason five straight times since it won back to back pennants starting in 2008, when they beat the Tampa Bay Rays to capture the World Series Championship.
Winning just 66 games, the team finished in the cellar of the National East Division last year. That total, based solely on the record, seems to indicate a regression from the 71 victories in 2016.
Upon closer inspection, however, there is reason to believe that the Phillies will be much improved in 2018, even to the point where they could qualify as one of the Wild Card teams. Several changes within and beyond the organization provide high hopes in the town of Brotherly Love.
After a horrible three months, Philadelphia actually became a winning team in the second half of 2017. They beat up on their division rivals in Miami and Atlanta, two teams that have clearly weakened their rosters in 2018. The Marlins have traded Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton to the New York Yankees and slugger Marcel Ozuna to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Braves have parted ways with former MVP Matt Kemp, sending him back to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Although the Phillies did not quite have that kind of success against their division rival in New York, that should change in 2018. The Mets, who won twelve of the nineteen contests against Philadelphia last year, appear to be in a rebuilding mode.
The New York lineup will be filled with youngsters such as first baseman Dominic Smith, Gavin Cecchini at second, and shortstop Amed Rosario. Philadelphia should improve in their matchups against such a young team, which would result in at least four more wins by just breaking even in the head to head series.
Besides playing 57 games against much weaker division rivals, the Phillies will also benefit in 2018 from a change in the dugout. New manager Gabe Kapler, in his first managerial assignment at the big league level, brings a more youthful leadership in Philadelphia. He should serve as a welcome change to young players like outfielders Rhys Hoskins, Nick Williams and Odubel Herrera. Even third baseman Maikel Franco, in spite of heading into his fifth season at the Major League level, is only 25 years old.
Given these reasons for optimism, it is not surprising that the Phillies landed one of the biggest free agents on the market this winter. Carlos Santana is the veteran who might just push this club into the playoffs in 2018.