Brewers Secure More Stability at First Base With Carlos Santana

Carlos Santana
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

This might sound familiar, but Carlos Santana has been traded to a playoff contender. After signing a one-year deal with the Pirates in the offseason, he has been sent to the Brewers to help reinforce the second-worst offense in the National League (88 wRC+). In return, the Pirates will get back teenage shortstop Jhonny Severino, an international free agent who signed for $1.2 million last summer and only has 60 professional games under his belt.

At this late point in Santana’s career, he has established himself as a reliable, average player, playing in 94 games, accumulating 393 plate appearances, and posting a 99 wRC+ this season after a 102 mark last season. The production comes through in a slightly different way, but he has a 99 wRC+ from the left side and a 100 wRC+ from the right side. Similarly, he is a reliable defender; so far, he sits at +2 OAA with a 0% success rate added. Across the board, this is an average dude.

We know who Santana is. Santana knows who he is. The Brewers know who he is. That isn’t super sexy, but the Brewers do not need sexy at first base; competence is a good first step for them. In Jay Jaffe’s Replacement Level Killers series, they topped the list at first base; no team has gotten less production at the position. Santana has accumulated 1.0 WAR on the year, so it’s not as if he is a huge difference maker, but he can provide a necessary stability as Milwaukee tries to hold on to first place in the NL Central.

As for the Pirates’ side of things: Severino doesn’t have much professional experience. This year, he has only played 12 games with 52 plate appearances in the complex league thanks to a sprained left wrist. In terms of his profile, he is a big, projectable infielder who most likely fits at third base long-term but is currently at shortstop. Overall, he has a 40 Future Value and slots in at 23rd on the Pirates list in the same tier as prospects like Dariel Lopez and major leaguers such as Nick Gonzales.

There is upside in Severino’s power, which looks like it will work to all fields. At 18 years old, he is already showing legitimate pop. There is also downside in the hit tool, though. From the little that we’ve seen, he is running a 30-grade chase rate, and his 1% walk rate is slightly concerning. But that could improve with more time; for example, he ran a 7% walk rate in 198 plate appearances last year.

To round this out, let’s look some of Severino’s at-bats:

There are a lot of lower body movements happening, and some stepping in the bucket. Maintaining connection to the ground throughout your swing is a very important part of the learning process of hitting. As you grow into strength, your effort levels to produce power become more controlled. That will be a focus for Severino as he develops and eventually moves out of the complex league. There are multiple swings here where his first move is his lead hip drifting toward third base. Sometimes he counters his stepping in the bucket with a scissor kick to even things out, but by then he already lost his hands. On the other hand, there are some swings here with serious thump (2:15 is a great example). The rotational power is clearly there; it will just be a balancing act for Severino as he ages and faces better competition.

Teams like the Pirates bring on players like Santana for a few reasons, but one of them is hoping he plays well enough to garner a return like this at the trade deadline. There is no guarantee that Severino will help the next good Pirates club, but in a deal like this, all you want is an opportunity to have something to work with, and that’s exactly what they got. For the Brewers, it shores up what has been a significant hole as they make a playoff push.

Esteban is a contributing writer at FanGraphs. You can also find his work at Pinstripe Alley if you so dare to read about the Yankees. Find him on Twitter @esteerivera42 for endless talk about swing mechanics.

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8 months ago

It’s crazy that Santana is an upgrade for a team gunning for the playoffs. But this allows them to stop playing light-hitting utility guys at first base, and he’s good defensively there, so he’s rosterable despite the lack of defensive versatility. There may be a little more value the Brewers can extract from Santana’s bat, too. He has played in a bunch of stadiums recently that suppress power and Miller Park or whatever it is called now is very friendly to left handed power.

8 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Plus, Santana is historically better than average vs LHP, and that is as an even more pronounced weakness for this team than the lineup in general. (And one that wouldn’t be fixed even if Tellez magically figures himself out.)

As far as fit is concerned, this acquisition is a no-brainer. As for impact, they could have done better, but there’s not a lot of true lefty mashers on the market. Justin Turner. Austin Slater. Teoscar maybe, if he could convert to 1B. But none of those teams are bonafide sellers.

8 months ago
Reply to  g4

Given that there are only a couple of bats that are available and above average—and given that the Brewers have a ton of holes—I don’t think this stops them from upgrading further if they want.