Last winter, the Royals signed first baseman Carlos Santana to a two-year, $17.5 million deal in an attempt to improve the club by adding a few veterans. Early on the deal looked good, as Santana provided a patient eye that could get on base and hit a few home runs in the first two months.
But injuries and age caught up to the 35-year old slugger. He was the worst hitter in baseball from June 1 on, hitting just .198/.287/.296 with 9 home runs in 106 games. He later revealed he had been nursing a hamstring injury that summer. But his slump, in addition to his age, and the emergence of some interesting hitting prospects have made Santana expendable. Alec Lewis of The Athletic recently wrote how Santana may need to be moved to make way for younger talent.
Because prospects such as Nick Pratto, MJ Melendez and Vinnie Pasquantino are rising up the minor-league pipeline, a trade to move Santana to clear space for the young players makes sense. For the Royals to make this type of deal, they’ll likely need to attach many millions of dollars....
So to fit both Pratto and Melendez into the lineup every day, eliminating Santana from one of those two spots is the best approach. That’s why the Royals will likely pursue a trade once a new collective bargaining agreement is finalized.
Whether or not the Royals trade Santana by eating much of the contract will be a good test of the new ownership group. Will they pay for a player that isn’t on the roster if it can improve the club through other means?
Even assuming the Royals were to eat a substantial amount of the $10.5 million owed Santana in 2022, would there be any teams interested in trading for a 35-year old coming off a below-replacement level season with an 83 wRC+? Teams would have to be convinced that last year’s slump was injury-related, and a healthier Santana in 2022 could bounce back. A thin free agent market could help - Freddie Freeman and Anthony Rizzo are the only starting-caliber first basemen available. It would also help if owners and players agree on a universal DH rule in 2022 under a new labor deal.
But frankly, the odds of a deal don’t seem great. Perhaps a team could buy into Santana’s veteran presence and his ability to bounce back. What teams could possibly be interested in Santana in 2022?
After tying the Orioles for the worst record in baseball, Arizona may be looking to improve, particularly at first base. Christian Walker was nearly as bad as Santana last year, and while former prospect Pavin Smith could move back to first base full time next year, the Diamondbacks are thin up and down their lineup and could use another bat. Perhaps they could be interested in Santana just to give them a plausible lineup, or maybe the Royals could attach a lower-level prospect for a rebuilding club like Arizona to sweeten the deal.
The Braves would only really be interested in Santana if longtime Braves favorite Freddie Freeman bolts Atlanta as a free agent. That doesn’t seem likely - everyone in baseball expects him to return - but Atlanta doesn’t really have a Plan B on their current roster. The Braves could also pursue Santana if the National League adopts a designated hitter, although they may be more interested in bringing back World Series MVP Jorge Soler. This seems like a long shot, but if Freeman bolts, the Braves could get desperate.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox were reportedly interested in Santana at the deadline last summer. Bobby Dalbec was adequate at first base for Boston this year, smacking 25 home runs in his rookie season. But he is a right-handed hitter who hardly ever walks, and the Red Sox could complement his skills with a switch-hitter who walks a ton. Top first base prospect Triston Casas is probably still a year away, so maybe Santana could be a nice bridge between the two players.
It’s kind of difficult to figure out what the Cubs are doing. They emptied out the roster this summer suggesting they’re in a rebuild, but they signed free agent pitcher Marcus Stroman to a big deal and have suggested they will be active in free agency. They did have old friend Frank Schwindel come on as a sensation last year, but they may want a hedge in case he turns back into a pumpkin. Santana could also serve as a DH for them if the National League adopts a designated hitter rule. The Cubs seem like the kind of team that is willing to take on bad contracts from other teams if they throw in a useful prospect, and reportedly offered to take Eric Hosmer from the Padres in such a transaction.
The Brewers seem to be in win-now mode, but their first baseman is beer league slugger Rowdy Tellez, who hit just .242/.305/.414 last year. Former prospect Keston Hiura is another possibility, but he had been dreadful the last two seasons. The Brewers could look for a more veteran player with a track record of success, and if the Royals eat enough money, Santana could be worth a flyer for a contender.
Santana is a prototypical Moneyball player, so why not turn to the Moneyball franchise? The A’s have Matt Olson at first base - for now. Trade rumors have circled Olson amid talk the A’s will reduce payroll this winter. With no real successor in tow, the A’s could be in the market for a first baseman once Olson is dealt.
Could Santana return for a second stint in Philly? The Phillies traded him one year into a three-year deal after he had a disappointing season for them in 2018. The Phils have Rhys Hoskins at first, but if they need a designated hitter this year, they could add more bats to a thin roster. Santana seems like a bit of a stretch, but there is some familiarity with him.
The Mariners have the longest post-season drought in baseball and will be looking to get their team over the hump after flirting with a playoff spot this summer. The roster is a bit fluid right now. Ty France and Evan White will probably be at first base, but there could be some at-bats at designated hitter, depending on how the outfield shakes out with Jake Fraley, Kyle Lewis, Jarred Kelenic, and Mitch Haniger. The Mariners had the fourth-fewest runs scored last year, with the third-lowest on-base percentage, so they could use more firepower. If they need to make a penny-pinching move to add a bat, perhaps Santana becomes attractive if the Royals take on most of the deal. Or maybe Jerry Dipoto just gets bored and decides he wants to make a trade just to make a trade.
Who is Carlos Santana playing for on Opening Day 2022?
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Kansas City Royals