It’s been a hectic and bad day in Mariners fandom, but we have a baseball move that is of note and, seemingly, promise.
Mariners are working to finalize a trade for outfielder Domingo Santana of the Brewers. Medicals need to be checked.— Ryan Divish (@RyanDivish) December 21, 2018
Following it up, the deal appears to be a two-for-one swap.
Sounds like Ben Gamel and Noah Zavolas are part of the return to Milwaukee for Domingo Santana. @RyanDivish had Santana first.— Corey Brock (@CoreyBrockMLB) December 21, 2018
While the deal is pending physicals and the tweet by Brock is open-ended, from what we’ve heard this is the deal (and we’ll update this if anything changes). It is now official!
#Mariners acquire OF Domingo Santana from Milwaukee in exchange for OF Ben Gamel and minor league RHP Noah Zavolas.— MarinersPR (@MarinersPR) December 22, 2018
Read: https://t.co/scVwaZ4zPF pic.twitter.com/CKuyiG31ME
The trade sends Ben Gamel to a Brewers team that is full of above-average players, to the point where the promising Domingo Santana spent much of the season in the minor leagues. Gamel’s left-handed bat makes him a solid pairing with the RHH Ryan Braun in left field, and an above-average baserunner/bench bat on an NL roster. Gamel also likely appeals to the Brewers as he gives them roster flexibility where Santana does not (and an extra year of control), according to our sister site Brew Crew Ball.
Looks like Ben Gamel has an option left, which pretty much gives us all we need to know about why Stearns made this trade.— Jack Stern (@baseball7310) December 21, 2018
Along with Gamel goes RHP Noah Zavolas, a reliever-only who spent most of the season in Short Season A Everett after being drafted in the 18th round out of Harvard. Zavolas was a low-fanfare prospect who came in at 19th in Baseball America’s ranking of 2018 draft prospects from the state of Massachusetts, but unranked overall in their Top-500 draft prospects. He had success in Everett, as well as in a brief stint with High-A Modesto, but in a system full of reliever depth, he seems like a harmless add-in to a trade for an upside play like Santana.
So let’s get to Santana. The 6’5, 220 lbs outfielder split time between Milwaukee and the AAA-Colorado Springs Sky Sox. That was surprising, considering he was viewed as a somewhat integral part of a promising Brewers team coming into the year. His 127 wRC+ and .278/.371/.505 line and 30 homers/15 steals in 607 PAs from 2017 are the markings of a great player, particularly as it came in Santana’s age-24 season. Now 26 (albeit half a year younger than Gamel), Santana is a bit of a buy-low. He began 2018 with an absolutely brutal 79 wRC+ from March-thru-June, and the reasoning is pretty plain to see.
See, Domingo Santana hits the ball quite hard - a 40.2% hard hit rate in 2018, even, and you can see what happens when he gets into the ball with his quick short, impactful stroke:
But that doesn’t do much when it’s on the ground. Back in 2017, Santana was getting the ball in the air a decent amount, with line drives at a healthy 27.4% clip and fly balls 27.7% of the time. But the liners disappeared and all turned into grounders in 2018, leaving the Brewers, who were flush with outfield depth, to demote Santana and hope he could return to form. It’s hard to know if he quite fixed things. While his return in September was explosive, he only earned 24 PAs down the stretch, so his improved batted ball profile and 257 wRC+ and six XBHs are tough to credit fully, even as they make his season-long profile more palatable.
At every level, Santana has run sky-high BABIPs, but that seems almost a necessity given his profile has as much swing-and-miss as any pro hitter not named Gallo or Zunino. The 26-year-old has three years of cost-control, entering his first season of arbitration in 2019, meaning he’ll be eligible to be a Mariner at least through 2021. If you think the team will be competing by that time, you could see Santana as a potential component of that. Alternatively, Seattle has the space to give Santana a season full of plate appearances and try to put the shine back on his apple, before trading him once some of the team’s many outfield prospects begin to arrive. Despite average speed, Santana hasn’t typically graded well defensively, and fits best as a left fielder, where Seattle has plenty of plate appearances to offer him.
The Mariners Opening Day roster currently looks to have Mitch Haniger, Mallex Smith, Santana, and Jay Bruce as its main options, meaning we’ll either have to see some abysmal defense or creative utility usage to spell Smith in center field. Still, if this goes official, it’s hard not to like flipping a capable 4th OF and a late-round reliever in the low-minors for a former top-100 prospect who has produced recently in the majors. Here’s hoping for a few more of these over the years.