The Orioles are building a nice surplus of young outfielders and the latest group, including players like Kyle Stowers and Robert Neustrom, are closing in on the majors. Their day could be coming and a spot might need to be opened for someone to slide into.
Santander has value to other teams. They remember his big 2020 season, one where he was good both on offense and defense and was a Gold Glove finalist. Santander has value also in that he is just 27 and has three years of team control remaining. While his bat fell well off his 2020 numbers in 2021, some teams might see a slugger they believe will be better than league average and/or will produce his best years coming up.
But Santander did fall off during a 2021 season where he was hampered much of the year by an ankle issue that lingered; he kept playing through it with the team’s blessing. If healthy, the numbers likely would have been better.
But there is a big difference between a player producing an .890 OPS, as he did in 2020, and a .720 OPS, as he did last year. One is an All-Star and the other is below average.
And, yes, we all know the sample size was much smaller during the shortened 2020 season in which Santander played just 37 games before his season ended Sept. 5 with an oblique strain. But in that smaller sample, Santander put together a nice run that earned him the Most Valuable Oriole award. At the time of his injury, he was leading the American League in extra-base hits, tied for second in doubles, third in total bases, tied for third in RBIs, sixth in slugging and tied for sixth in home runs. So, pretty good. He led the Orioles in Wins Above Replacement, per Baseball-Reference.com, with 8 Defensive Runs Saved was second among AL right fielders. A short but good season.
But in 2021, over 438 plate appearances, he batted .241/.286/.433/.720 with 24 doubles, 18 homers and 50 RBIs. His OPS+ was 135 in 2020 and 92 last year.
Santander was paid $2.1 million via arbitration in 2020 and is projected to get $3.7 million this winter. I can’t see the Orioles seriously considering a non-tender here, not with so much service time remaining.
I also think if the club looked to trade him now, it would be selling low. It might be the best play to get him healthy, try to keep him that way and see if he starts hitting more like he did in ‘20 to rebuild his value. Maybe while that is happening, someone like Stowers is putting the finishing touches on his development and forcing his way onto the roster.
That could be a win-win for the Orioles. Perhaps by the 2022 trade deadline, Stowers is ready and Santander is raking. They could trade someone that would bring a nice return, put a young player in right field, and lose nothing there in talent and production. Or even if Santander bounces back and stays on the team for several years, nothing wrong with having depth and talent in the outfield.
In the smaller sample of 2020, Santander was better at getting the ball in the air and using the whole field.
His groundball rate was 39.2 in 2019, 23.6 in 2020 and 34.0 last year. His opposite-field rate of balls in play starting in 2019 was 23.8, then 32.0 and 23.2. Even of the balls he did hit in the air, more went over the wall in 2020. His homer-to-fly ball rate was 15.6 in 2019, then 17.5 and 13.4 last year.
During his MVO year, he hit the ball on the ground less, in the air more, spread the ball around the field better and also saw more balls he lifted in the air go for homers.
There you go, Anthony - a key for success provided free of charge. Thank me later!
The biggest key though may be to prove he can stay on the field. A healthy Santander could be coming into his prime years. The best could still be to come. If it is, the Orioles will have an outfielder they like a lot. One to keep or trade.