Why the Orioles may have to part with a player the fan base really likes

With some of the top pitchers in the majors pulling in some of the biggest salaries, short of signing a pitcher for $25-30 million or more, how do the Orioles get a frontline pitcher?

Well, potentially via trade.

But to get something good you have to be prepared to give up something good. Fans for years have suggested trades where their team gives up six mediocre players to get one good one. But teams don’t look to add mediocre players, so acquiring several of them at once is no incentive. What they want is players who have two or three years (or more) of team control left and are good players now. If they are in the prime years of their careers, all the better. If their salary is reasonable, even better yet.

The Orioles have at least one such player. And when it is suggested the team consider trading Anthony Santander to get something they like in return, it makes some in Birdland nervous. They get worried when there is talk of trading productive players. But if the team wants to acquire a pitcher they can slot at or near the top of their rotation, one with some track record of success in the majors and not a prospect who hasn’t done it yet, they need to give up something.

This is where Santander or someone similar could come in. Not because the Orioles want to “get rid of him” or they want to “move him,” but when you talk about “trade chips” that have some significance and could get another club's attention, well, he could.

Santander turned 28 yesterday and is coming off a 33-homer, 89-RBI season with a .773 OPS that produced an OPS plus of 117. Santander was under league average in 2021 with a .720 OPS and an OPS plus of 94. A year ago, some in Birdland were not as high on him as they are now. Not nearly.

But Santander, projected to get a very reasonable (by baseball standards) $7.5 million in arbitration this winter, still has two years of team control. There is a lot to like. Float his name in trade discussions and teams will bite. Or at least start making some calls.

Coming off a productive year? Check.

Team control left? Check.

Reasonable salary? Check.

Prime years of career? Check.

In fact, it could be, to really put a big deal over the top, that the O's have to add a good prospect or two to a Santander deal to get a team to part with quality pitching.

And no, I don't have any names to throw out of players that could be acquired, but we do have the profile: Someone who checks the above boxes coming back. A couple of years of team control and not a rental. A player with some track record of success with the hope that, on the O's watch, he takes it to an even higher level. That someone could have a salary on the rise, but he's not going to make $30 million next year.

So if the Orioles traded a player the level of Santander, how do they replace him?

Well, if Santander is dealt, I see Kyle Stowers as ready to play every day at this level. I see a lot of strikeouts, yes, but also a player who could hit 30 homers with all-fields power, someone athletic with some speed and a good arm in the outfield. Someone who could produce an .800 OPS and would produce a solid walk rate. 

Someone younger and cheaper than Santander. It is a move the O's could make with the understanding that other outfielders, such as Colton Cowser, could also figure into the mix in 2023. 

Any guarantees that they get similar production without Santander? None at all. Any risk in making this move? Yes. 

Santander is a player who turned out to be a heckuva pickup in the Rule 5 draft. He's a real presence in the O's clubhouse, among the most well-liked in there, and there are numerous reasons to keep him around for next year and beyond. Numerous. If that happens, the O's will be hanging onto a good one.

But in the history of this sport, big names, good players and fan favorites get traded all the time. If the O's could add a top-of-rotation-type pitcher at a reasonable salary with some team control, they'd have to strongly consider such a move. 

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