Domingo Santana Heads to Seattle

No doubt partially out of a sense of jealousy at watching other teams make trades Friday without making one of his own, Jerry Dipoto and the Seattle Mariners added a veteran, picking up outfielder Domingo Santana from the Milwaukee Brewers for outfielder Ben Gamel and pitcher Noah Zavolas.

After acquiring Christian Yelich and signing Lorenzo Cain last offseason, the Brewers faced a bit of a roster crunch when it came to the outfield. On pure merit, it made the most sense for Ryan Braun to see his role shrink coming into the season, but seriously reducing their longtime franchise player’s playing time was something I don’t believe the front office was ever seriously considering. Braun would get some at-bats at first to spell Eric Thames, and between that and various days off and possible injury stints for the quartet, Santana would get playing time and everybody would be happy. And if that didn’t work out, Santana was coming off a .278/.371/.505 age-24 season that could help snag the Brewers a starting pitcher.

Everything worked out quite well for the Brewers, but not so much for Santana. The team was able to juggle the five players in question quite well in the early going, enough to get Santana 24 starts in April, though that was aided by Yelich’s sore oblique that sent him to the ten-day DL. It would be hard to claim that Santana did much with his April playing time, only hitting .237/.321/.269 with no homers. Thames’s thumb injury required the Brewers to have a full-timer at first, and with Jesus Aguilar made the absolute most of the opportunity and the outfield healthy, Santana’s playing time dropped quickly. The return of Thames created another roster crunch and Santana, with an option year available, spent July and August starting for Colorado Springs. He was called up in September, but purely as a reserve and only got a single start for the month.

The Brewers would have had a lot more difficulty trading Santana for a pitcher at this point, so rather than pay him to be a role player, they sent him over to the Mariners for a less expensive role player who can cover center field. Santana’s still relatively young and with three years to go until free agency, he’s more interesting than a pillow contract for a one-year reclamation projection. Even hanging onto Mitch Haniger, Santana likely starts in a corner for Seattle as there’s simply far more promise in his future than that of Jay Bruce.

As Eric Longenhagen noted to me, Zavolas is a former college starter with a low-90s fastball who changes speed well but is missing a solid breaking pitch. Harvard alumni will likely appreciate Zavolas for having thrown a no-hitter against Yale back in April, but he smells a lot like an organizational player to me. He got good results in his debut in the minors, but a 22-year-old ought to be crushing the Northwest League.

From a pure “this is what they project” standpoint, Santana and Gamel come out fairly evenly. I still believe that Santana has some upside remaining, but it will have to involve some kind of improvement in his plate discipline. Santana swung at more bad pitches in 2018 than in 2017, and what’s especially troubling is that unlike some bad-ball swingers, he’s actually quite poor at making contact with the out-of-zone pitches, 14 percentage points worse than the league average in 2018. It feels like there’s a really good player hidden away somewhere in Santana should he adopt a better approach at the plate, but finding that can’t be assured and none of his three previous organizations were able to make him into a better hitter.

ZiPS Projections – Domingo Santana
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2019 .231 .329 .430 437 58 101 19 1 22 57 60 187 6 109 -2 1.5
2020 .232 .331 .436 427 58 99 19 1 22 57 60 184 5 111 -3 1.6
2021 .223 .327 .430 421 57 94 19 1 22 55 61 187 5 108 -3 1.4

ZiPS Projections – Ben Gamel
Year BA OBP SLG AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI BB SO SB OPS+ DR WAR
2019 .267 .331 .413 479 65 128 27 8 9 53 44 108 10 96 2 1.3
2020 .261 .327 .411 394 53 103 23 6 8 43 37 91 8 95 2 0.9
2021 .263 .329 .418 373 51 98 22 6 8 41 35 83 7 97 1 0.9
2022 .263 .328 .419 365 49 96 21 6 8 41 34 80 7 97 1 0.9

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Dan Szymborski is a senior writer for FanGraphs and the developer of the ZiPS projection system. He was a writer for ESPN.com from 2010-2018, a regular guest on a number of radio shows and podcasts, and a voting BBWAA member. He also maintains a terrible Twitter account at @DSzymborski.

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sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

This is a great deal for Seattle. Gamel has no upside, and Santana hits the ball really hard. He was a 3-win player a few years ago and there is really no reason to think he can’t back there. The projection systems are down on him because they think .360 BABIPs are unsustainable, but he runs very well and crushes the ball so hard that it’s actually totally reasonable that he keeps that up. He’s a great buy-low guy.

For the Brewers…ugh. I actually still think Santana might be better than Braun next year, and while Gamel is worth something I’m not convinced he offers much more than Santana. He’s not a great fit in CF and Santana can play the corners, so…he gets to be the fourth CF behind Cain, Yelich, and Broxton? I’m not sure he offers much more than Tyrone Taylor does in AAA. They save some money, though? I’m not sure it makes much sense.

Red
Member
Member

Surprised to really like a move for the Mariners. Exactly the type of move they should be making, as Gamel is a good 4th OF and okay strong side of platoon type, but there’s no projection there. Trading Santana a year late instead of last winter is a missed opportunity, although he provided a number of pinch hits in the playoffs, and as Dan noted, they couldn’t have been sure Braun stayed healthy, and would have been averse to moving him into a true part time role anyway.

You can’t really assume Santana is going to produce like folks thought he could coming up, but Seattle is wise to bet on the upside since Gamel has little chance to appreciate and isn’t a real asset in terms of trade value.

Ivan_Grushenko
Member
Member
Ivan_Grushenko

Ya I’m not seeing the logic here for the Brewers. Santana effectively backs up all 3 OF positions and 1B with Yelich able to play CF and Braun 1B. Thames isn’t worth making room for. Santana is a better player with much more upside than Gamel.

OddBall Herrera
Member
OddBall Herrera

Maybe the theory is Santana struggled while receiving inconsistent ABs this year, and since that’s what he’d get next year (at best), send him out before he’s proven totally worthless and replace him with a guy who can be effective off the bench

Stevil
Member
Stevil

Santana’s out of options and can’t play center to justify a roster spot; Gamel has experience and options, so he can be stashed in AAA.

Makes sense to me, though Seattle’s getting more potential reward.

Stevil
Member
Stevil

Broxton’s the better defender, and with Santana out of options, they wouldn’t have had the flexibility they now have with Gamel.

Santana definitely has more upside, but that upside was basically traded for an extra year of control of an experienced major-leaguer that has options. I like this deal better for Seattle, but I think it does make sense for Milwaukee as well.

Stevil
Member
Stevil

Sorry for the redundancy. My original comment didn’t appear immediately, so I thought I had lost it. Turns out the only thing lost was my mind.

sadtrombone
Member
sadtrombone

After sleeping a little bit, I dislike this deal for the Brewers even more: The option and extra year of team control isn’t worth it for a guy who just isn’t a very good player. Santana is likely a better player, definitely than the guy they traded him for, and potentially the guy starting over him (Braun, who has injury problems anyway). 4th outfielders are just less valuable than likely starters in the corner outfield, even with the extra year and positional versatility. If they keep Broxton he’s not going to be backing up CF anyway, and if they don’t keep Broxton the option isn’t likely an issue (he’ll probably not be getting sent down/pulled back). This is not a move that a team that wants to make the playoffs should be making.

It’s not likely to totally blow up on the Brewers unless Gamel underperforms or Santana turns back into the 3-win player he was before, but I don’t like this deal.

jayjay
Member
jayjay

Santana hits the ball really hard? Baseball Savant shows that his hard-hit percentage, exit velocity, and barrel percentage were each among the bottom 1 percent in the majors last year.

Red
Member
Member

This isn’t accurate. Both Santana’s 2018 EV (89) and career EV (89.7) are above MLB AVG (87). Same with barrel% – 2018: 10.2, career: 10.6, MLB AVG: 6.1

phealy48
Member
phealy48

??? Santana was in the 63rd percentile in EV(min 120 battd balls). Plus in 2016 his EV was 92.7(probs top 25).

docgooden85
Member
Member
docgooden85

Haven’t you guys heard? Everyone is entitled to their own insane personal version of reality. These are not the droids you’re looking for.

Joser
Member
Joser

And just to finish off the stats you incorrectly cite, his HH% of 38.7 ranks him at 104 of 369 batters (with 120 minimum batted ball events) which is nowhere near the bottom 1%. (Hint: it’s not even the bottom 50%)

I’m just going to assume you need to learn how to use Baseball Savant correctly.

mr_hogg
Member
mr_hogg

I was going to say you might have looked by mistake at Dennis Santana, but he had an RBI double in one of his two trips to the plate in 2018.

Dag Gummit
Member
Dag Gummit

Definitely some kind of lookup error. Santana was a hard-hit golden boy in 2017.

Barry Cuda
Member
Member
Barry Cuda

When the Mariners acquired Gamel, I think they thought he might be an everyday player. Now after having had him in the organization for a couple of years, they’ve concluded he’s a platoon outfielder – which is close to a fungible commodity in the off-season market.

So in the current Mariners context, why not swap him for a player who has the potential to be more than a platoon player? They have a couple of years to make that assessment.

I can’t help but think that for the Brewers, the attraction is getting optionable outfield depth for 2019. They couldn’t really fit Santana onto the roster comfortably, and they couldn’t option him. So they swap an inconvenient 2019 roster situation for a more flexible 2019 roster. They can keep Gamel on the 40-man roster, without disrupting plans for the 25-man roster. And if they ever need some added depth, they can bring up Gamel whenever they need him and he will give them solid league average production.

So to me. this look like a 2019 decisions by the Brewers, and a 2020 and beyond move by the Mariners. Which is exactly the type of deal both teams should be doing.