If you haven’t been paying close attention to the Royals lately - and who could blame you - you might not have noticed that Carlos Santana has been magma hot in the month of June and raised his season wRC+ all the way up to 98. Still below average, but for a hot minute he had it above average before enduring another oh-fer game. His batting average is now over the Mendoza line and both FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference now show him as having a positive WAR for the season (0.2 and 0.6 respectively.)
To my knowledge, no one in Royals’ management has made any public remarks about Santana’s rebound, yet, but based on their positions in the past and more recently, we can expect them to trumpet the fact that they stuck with him and he has rebounded as a success for their process and their faith in their players. The thing is, maybe they're right - probably not, but maybe! - but it just doesn’t matter.
Before we go any further, I want to make this clear that this has never been about a personal judgment about Carlos Santana’s career, his character, or even really his abilities this season. It’s been about what would be best for the team. For all I know Carlos Santana is a really good dude and he could hit 30 home runs from July through September and it wouldn’t change anything.
The questions that should be asked about Carlos Santana on the 2022 Royals aren’t about him they’re about the team. Dayton Moore and JJ Piccolo and Mike Matheny would like you to ask the question, “Does Carlos Santana have enough talent to justify his place on a generic major league roster?” because the answer was always, “Maybe?” and since the start of June has been trending toward, “Yes!” But the question should be, “Does Carlos Santana offer anything of value to the 2022 Royals?” and the answer to that is, “Absolutely not.”
Everything that was true of Carlos Santana’s roster spot on the Royals at the end of May is still true now:
- Nothing he can contribute to the 2022 Royals will meaningfully change their record. There is no reporting to indicate he’s had a significant impact on the club’s intangibles, either.
- He will not be on the next competitive Royals team, whether it's in 2023 or 2045.
- There is at least one player in the minor leagues who has done everything and more to justify a promotion to the big leagues who is not going to get it as long as Santana is on the roster.
- Not promoting that player hurts the team directly because they cannot evaluate his talent against Major League competition.
- Not promoting that player also hurts the team indirectly because it is no doubt causing frustration for that player who is not being afforded an opportunity he has more than earned and he is also not being paid what he should be.
- Other players - both inside and outside the organization - can also see that the Royals aren’t treating that player fairly and it will make them worry about how they might theoretically be treated. Add to this that they can see players like Jakob Junis and Frank Schwindel thriving for other teams after not getting chances with the Royals.
- Santana’s trade value may have increased slightly, but he’s still not returning anyone likely to ever become a major leaguer. A lottery ticket is better than nothing, but what they sacrificed to keep Santana on the team this long isn’t “nothing.”
So, in the end, no matter what the Royals’ front office will try to tell you about Santana’s resurgence, this isn’t a victory for the team either on the field or off. It might be a victory for Santana himself, but no more than what could have been achieved simply by trading him at last year’s deadline or trading him or even cutting him during the past off-season before he spent several more weeks looking completely finished as a hitter while ostensibly healthy for a team that wasn’t going anywhere.
The best move for everyone involved still remains as it has been all year: getting Carlos Santana off of this team as quickly as possible whether that involves a nominal trade return or not.