NL Notes: Pirates, Santana, Reds, Phillies, Mets, Kahnle

The Pirates’ signing of Carlos Santana was in part driven by the team’s belief that next year’s restriction on infield shifts will help to boost the veteran switch-hitter’s production, general manager Ben Cherington told reporters after finalizing the deal this week (link via Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). Beyond that, Santana’s reputation as a leader and mentor for younger players appealed to the club, as did a strong batted-ball profile that featured quality marks in metrics like average exit velocity, hard-hit rate and more.

At one year and $6.725MM, the Santana signing was somewhat remarkably the largest free-agent commitment given out by Cherington since he was hired to guide the Pirates’ latest rebuilding effort back in 2019. Cherington stressed there are other needs to address and that the Pirates, currently projected by Roster Resource to carry just a $54MM payroll, are hopeful of completing some additional deals.

A few more items out of the National League…

  • The Reds inked local product Luke Maile to a one-year contract, setting the stage for him to serve as Tyler Stephenson’s backup. However, general manager Nick Krall suggested after signing Maile the team isn’t closed off to the possibility of adding a third catcher to the big league roster (link via Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer). “There is a chance,” Krall noted, pointing out that the addition of the universal designated hitter gives teams the flexibility to more easily work with three backstops. The Reds were reportedly in touch with Tucker Barnhart about a potential reunion before signing Maile, though there’s no indication they’re strongly pursuing him after coming to terms with Maile. Still, Stephenson missed significant time in 2022 with a broken thumb, a concussion and a broken collarbone, and he also has 147 innings of big league experience at first base. There’s some sense to bringing in another catcher — particularly if it’s someone who can handle multiple spots on the diamond to give the Reds some more flexibility.
  • The Phillies were dealt a tough blow last week with the revelation Bryce Harper required a full Tommy John procedure. The Phils announced Harper was expected to return as a bat-only option by the All-Star Break while playing the outfield again at some point in the second half. President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski left open the possibility of an earlier return this week (link via Matt Gelb of the Athletic) but suggested he didn’t want to project any kind of more optimistic timeline. “In my own mind, I’m looking at the All-Star break. Anything that’s before that is great,” Dombrowski said. The veteran executive downplayed the need for the Phils to add an outfielder in response to the surgery, pointing out that any pickup would lose his path to everyday playing time once Harper returned. The DH-only role would force Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos into the corner outfield regularly to flank center fielder Brandon Marsh, with righty-hitting Matt Vierling on hand as the fourth outfielder. Dombrowski suggested that while the Phils will be “open-minded” to the possibility of adding on the grass, “it’s not a priority for us.
  • Adding to the bullpen is certainly a key objective for the Mets, who saw each of Adam OttavinoSeth LugoTrevor WilliamsJoely Rodriguez and Trevor May hit free agency. Will Sammon of the Athletic reports that New York is one of several teams to have looked into Tommy Kahnle, although he cautions it’s presently unclear how interested the Mets are in the free agent right-hander. Kahnle is an interesting upside play. He lost almost all of 2020-21 rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, and renewed arm inflammation cost him almost four months with the Dodgers this past season. Kahnle allowed only four runs in 12 2/3 innings when healthy enough to pitch, though, striking out 14 against three walks. The 33-year-old racked up swinging strikes at a massive 17.2% clip while leaning on his stellar changeup more than three-quarters of the time. Kahnle posted a 3.67 ERA with an elite 35.5% strikeout rate over 72 appearances with the Yankees in 2019, his most recent full season.

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