Wondering whether it makes sense to keep or trade Santander

The Orioles reached a point in the recent past where no one was viewed as untouchable. Make them an offer. There was room to fit everyone on the table.

Some players were pushed harder than others in trade talks. Teams learned in 2018 that the Orioles needed to be overwhelmed in order to consider Trey Mancini. They were steered in other directions.

The Orioles also were inclined to keep Mancini in 2019, noting his importance on the roster and in the clubhouse. Mancini, in turn, was asked almost daily whether he was relieved to still be in the organization past the deadline.

You won’t hear Mancini’s name linked to any trade rumors after his colon cancer surgery last March and a summer spent undergoing chemotherapy treatments. And let’s assume that executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias would have to be floored by an offer to consider moving Ryan Mountcastle and the top pitching prospects who are essential to the success of the rebuild.

Catcher Adley Rutschman, rated by Baseball America as the No. 2 overall prospect, isn’t going anywhere except for Double-A Bowie. Rival executives are probably smart enough to resist making that phone call.

What about Anthony Santander?

Thumbnail image for Anthony-Santander-Drives-White-Sidebar.jpgYes, the Orioles understand and appreciate his value. Yes, they’d surrender him in the right deal.

I mentioned earlier this week that teams are noting how Santander is available, though I didn’t suggest that he’s being shopped aggressively. Just that, as one person put it, “He’s out there.”

(Santander may not be loving every minute of it, which is today’s “Seinfeld” reference.)

I keep hearing the Marlins are a team that’s engaged in talks with the Orioles. Maybe it leads to nothing, but that’s one of the hot rumors.

The Orioles are relatively deep at the outfield position, though they envision Mancini moving back to first base. They anticipate summer debuts from Yusniel Diaz and perhaps Ryan McKenna. In the meantime, they can break camp with Mountcastle, Austin Hays, Cedric Mullins and DJ Stewart.

They also can break with a few super-utility players capable of handling an outfield assignment.

None of them were voted Most Valuable Oriole in 2020 or chosen as a finalist for an American League Gold Glove in right field. That’s Santander territory. Those are pretty good reasons to hold onto him, along with team control. He’s in his first year of arbitration eligibility.

The latter is the reason why he’s poised to receive a healthy raise. And why he’s headed to a hearing next month after the sides exchanged figures with the Orioles in file-and-trial mode.

Santander is going to make $2.1 million or $2.475 million on a team that’s still geared toward keeping its payroll down in the rebuild and he’s one of its most valuable assets. A 26-year-old switch-hitter with power, improved defensive skills and room to grow.

He appeals to other clubs, too.

The master plan calls for Heston Kjerstad, the second-overall pick in the 2020 draft, to play right field for a long time, but he won’t be ready this summer. He doesn’t have a single professional at-bat and is ticketed for the low minors - whether it’s the Gulf Coast League or one of the Single-A affiliates.

And the Orioles have demonstrated that they won’t rush their prospects.

In the meantime, it makes sense to keep Santander and it makes sense to check the market for him and consider any deals that aid the rebuild.

Santander could be set to enter free agency before the Orioles are ready to contend, though as a Super 2, he retains arbitration eligibility up to four times. More team control, but also more raises.

The Orioles aren’t in a position to hand out long-term extensions, if that’s what you’re thinking.

There’s no question that Santander is a work in progress. The same improvement we’ve seen in his defense needs to be made in his overall approach at the plate, where he owns a career .292 on-base percentage and .252 average. But everyone sees the tools and the potential. And his popularity is rising with fans, who need reasons to stay engaged through a succession of losing seasons.

It’s complicated.

You keep Santander, you trade him and insert one of your other outfielders in right or you sign a free agent to a one-year deal - let’s restart the Yasiel Puig rumors - and flip him at the deadline to create a spot for Diaz.

There’s logic in each scenario.

What would you do?

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