I like Carlos Santana. He seems like a really good dude. I don’t wish him any ill will. I like him as a baseball player. He’s had a fine career. I thought the Royals bringing him in on a two-year deal was a fine signing. I thought it represented the Royals acknowledging that plate discipline was a skill worth acquiring and that he might even rub off on the younger players.
But Father Time, as they say, is undefeated. Carlos Santana is 36 years old and is coming off a season in which a mid-season injury in 2021 rendered him the worst hitter in baseball in the second half. He hasn’t done much better this year - his batting average is second-worst among any hitters with 100 plate appearances, and he has the 17th-worst slugging percentage. It’s only his amazing ability to draw walks that has kept him from being one of the worst hitters in baseball.
I am all for giving players with a proven track record a chance to work out of an early season slump, but at this point in the season, there is no reason for Carlos Santana to be on the roster anymore.
He is not a productive hitter anymore
Carlos Santana is hitting .140/.292/.258 with two home runs in 28 games. For a player at a power position, in the middle of the lineup, that is just unacceptable. And he’s been a poor hitter for a long time - over the last calendar year, he is hitting .191/.289/.298 in 143 games, second-worst in baseball.
There are reasons to think he might bounce back a little. His BABIP is .147, so he’s likely been a bit unlucky on balls in play. He is still league-average in exit velocity and hard-hit rate.
But his exit velocity is down from last year. His barrel rate is down. His hard-hit percentage is significantly down. Even with his bad luck, his expected batting average is only .222. He’s not likely to get appreciably better. He’s still a walk machine, but if that runs out, he will truly be a worthless hitter.
He has no trade value
Last year, the Royals had a patient slugger mired in a huge slump. Fans wanted Jorge Soler cut, but the Royals stuck with him, and in July, he went on a tear that induced the Atlanta Braves to trade a minor league pitcher for him. Soler went on to become World Series MVP and earn a decent contract with the Marlins.
That might give the Royals hope that Carlos Santana can get hot this summer and possibly raise his trade value. He reportedly received some interest from the Red Sox last year, and with the DH rule now universal, some National League clubs could be interested in his services.
But Jorge Soler was under 30 years old last summer when he turned things on, Carlos Santana is 36. Soler was coming off a disappointing but still league-average season in 2020, while Santana was one of the worst hitters in baseball last year. Santana is also saddled with a $10.5 million salary - the Royals would have to eat virtually all of that (something they have traditionally not done) - and even then it is hard to see anyone giving up anything to get his bat. If a marginal prospect like Kasey Kalich (who they got for Soler) is what is keeping Santana on the roster, the prize really isn’t worth it.
His contract is a sunk cost
Josh Vernier of 610 Sports told Bob Fescoe that he asked Mike Matheny why Santana was playing so much:
“I brought it up yesterday to Mike Matheny hoping - honestly I was hoping MJ Melendez would get everyday at-bats or at worst platoon with Carlos Santana in that DH position but Mike Matheny did not seem too keen on either one of those changes with this team, in fact was pretty resistant to the idea of Hunter Dozier starting at first base over Carlos Santana, saying “we signed Carlos to be our first baseman.”
You could read that a few ways - perhaps Matheny was simply telling Vernier what had been dictated to him, or perhaps he is too deferential to veterans, something he was accused of when things went sour in St. Louis.
You could also read that as the Royals paid Carlos Santana $10.5 million and by god, they’re going to get their money’s worth. To double down on a bad decision like this is what is known as a “sunk cost fallacy”, the tendency to reason that one must stick with a bad decision because of the previous investment made in that decision, not whether or not it is the best course going forward.
The Royals are paying Santana $10.5 million this year no matter how he performs. His salary is irrelevant at this point. The only question should be “does Carlos Santana make sense for our roster at this point?” And the answer to that is “no.”
Play the kids
The decision to keep Santana on the roster would not be so frustrating if the Royals did not have so many good young options to turn to. Vinnie Pasquantino is absolutely destroying Triple-A pitching right now, hitting .275/.380/.585 with 10 home runs in 40 games with the tenth-lowest strikeout rate in Triple-A East. Former first-round pick Nick Pratto probably isn’t ready quite yet, but he had a tremendous season last year. This year he is hitting .225/.361/.450 with 7 home runs and 23 walks in 33 games and will likely deserve a shot by the end of the year.
Even if you don’t feel Pratto or Pasquantino are quite ready for the big leagues yet, jettisoning Santana off the roster opens up more at-bats for other younger players. It would open up first base for Hunter Dozier (where he is probably best suited defensively), giving more outfield time for Kyle Isbel and MJ Melendez. Heck, I would rather see Ryan O’Hearn get one long last look at first base than continue to see Santana play out the end of his career there. The Royals have options at first base, releasing Santana won’t leave them in the lurch by any stretch.
Dayton Moore has seemed to backtrack on his pronouncement a few years ago on wanting to be more “transactional”, saying last week on 810 WHB:
“We’ve chosen to do it a certain way. I believe the more you stay with people and the more you believe in people you make that change so strong and so tight and so together so when it is time to win, there’s nothing that’s going to phase you, and there’s no quit, and you went through all the hardship and all the challenges and it makes you stronger.”
If Moore can’t make the blindingly obvious move here and release Carlos Santana, there really is no hope he’ll make the tougher decisions to make the transactions necessary to get this team back to being a contender. Loyalty is a virtue, but blind loyalty is a vice. Last week Dayton Moore talked about accountability. The time to hold players accountable is now.