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Examining Domingo Santana Deals. A Trip to the Tribe?

Could the Indians use Santana to bolster their lite outfield?

Seattle Mariners v Milwaukee Brewers Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Just two weeks left until the MLB trade deadline. Given the current temperature of the team, Seattle would be best making any and all players available for trade. It doesn’t appear the team will be anywhere close to competing in 2020, so stockpiling young, controllable players that can contribute in 2021 is arguably the most appropriate avenue to go.

Domingo Santana has been a pleasant surprise for the Mariners in 2019. He’s not only hit for power, he’s hit for average this season as well. His .283 average represents the best mark in his career, while his .350 on-base percentage is just a tick below his career high. He’s only pacing a ~2.0 WAR season (mostly due to strikeouts and defensive shortcomings), but teams covet thump at the deadline, and Santana can provide that in spades.

It’s been a banner year for Santana. Jerry Dipoto did a good job of buying low on him this offseason. Now, given the immediate future of the team, it’s time to sell high.

There’s a number of teams that could use Santana’s bat. The American League makes more sense, given the flexibility to slot him into a Designated Hitter role. That being said there’s a number of National League teams desperate for an offensive infusion headed for the playoff homestretch.

The Chicago Cubs make a lot of sense on paper. Kyle Schwarber has struggled to get on base in 2019, and the team has little-to-zero depth behind Schwarber and right fielder Jason Heyward if one were to get hurt. Santana and Schwarber could represent a potent platoon option in left field.

The Phillies could also make some sense. Jay Bruce has been their full-time left fielder since Andrew McCutchen went down with significant knee injuries. Platooning Bruce and Santana would unquestionably up Philadelphia’s offensive potential.

The Rockies could also use Santana’s services, though the team is likely reluctant to take much playing time away from 25-year-old Raimel Tapia. As a lefty, Tapia and Santana could conceivably represent another platoon opportunity in the National League.

On the American League side, most contenders are pretty well set at the designated hitter position, though there’s room for improvement in some outfield corps.

The White Sox are currently employing Jon Jay as their regular right fielder. Many believe the Sox could be a dark horse in 2020, and for that to be the case, Jay won’t cut it.

But none of these teams mentioned above make as much sense as the Cleveland Indians.

The Indians have had a very difficult time with offensive production from their outfield this season. The combination of Jordan Luplow, Leonys Martin, Greg Allen, Tyler Naquin, and Jake Bauers have combined for a total of 1.0 WAR in 2019. Those five players have not been able to match the 1.2 WAR posted by Santana this season alone.

Cleveland, currently surging in the AL Central, has made up six games in the standings over the past month. For the Tribe to catch the Twins or compete for a Wild Card spot, they’ll need to score plenty of runs.

Cleveland’s window is closing. They’re a small market team that is incredibly reluctant to pay its stars. Guys like Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Francisco Lindor have all been mentioned as potential trade candidates when the team is ready to sell. The team just doesn’t have the resources, or refuses to use the resources, to keep big-name players outside of their initial five years of controllability.

Domingo Santana has two more years of arbitration in front of him, and won’t reach free agency until 2022. His arbitration will likely cost somewhere between $5 and $6 million in 2020. If he posts another year like he has this year next season, he’ll probably be a $12-$14 million guy in 2021. It’s not cheap, but it also won’t break the bank. Worst case scenario, Cleveland could work to move him after the 2020 season if the team elects to sell its assets.

So what would a return look like for someone like Santana? Well that’s hard to say, but one could liken the deal to Jonathan Schoop being traded from the Orioles to the Milwaukee Brewers last season.

While not perfect parallels, Schoop represented an affordable offense-first profile with limited controllability moving forward. He ended up costing the Brewers roughly $2 million in 2019, and although he elected to sign with the Twins this last offseason, his $7.5 million price tag isn’t too far off from what Santana will command in arbitration next season.

In return for Schoop, Baltimore received SS Jonathan Villar, #6 prospect RHP Luis Ortiz, and fringe Top-30 prospect SS Jean Carmana. Admittedly, this return is probably heavier than what Seattle could net for Santana, but let’s dive deeper.

Money really isn’t an issue here, as Santana isn’t guaranteed any monies past this season. The $750,000 owed to Santana for the remainder of 2019 is inconsequential.

Option 1: Seattle sends Santana to the Indians, Cleveland sends a major leaguer and prospects.

In the Schoop deal, Baltimore elected to bring back Villar in the return. The hope was for Villar to increase his value so the Orioles could then flip him as well. That hasn’t happened, but the framework made sense nonetheless.

Mariners Acquire: IF Max Moroff, RHP Ethan Hankins, OF Alexfri Planez

Moroff, 26, is a utility infielder who can play just about anywhere on the diamond. He’s really struggled since making his debut in 2016 with the Pirates, but he’s never really gotten an extended look. In 213 career at-bats, Moroff owns a .183/.277/.319 slash with seven home runs. Moroff entered 2016 as the Pirates 19th best prospect according to both Baseball America and MLBPipeline.

Hankins, 19, would be the real jewel of the return here. Armed with a high-90s fastball and above average secondary offerings, Hankins is a guy that has top of the rotation potential. In fact, six months before the 2018 MLB Draft, Hankins was considered a strong possibility to be selected first overall. Shoulder tightness stopped that from happening and he eventually slipped to 35th overall and Cleveland. He currently ranks as the Indians 9th best prospect by MLBPipeline and 10th best by Baseball America.

At 6-foot-6, Hankins has a smooth, repeatable delivery. He’s got one of the easiest 99 mph fastballs you’ll see. In 21.2 innings of work this season, Hankins has produced a 2.08 ERA with 29 Ks. His 0.833 WHIP shows just how dominant he can be.

He’s as electric as they come.

Should he continue to stay healthy, he should be promoted to Class-A or High-A very soon. He’d likely be assigned to West Virginia for Seattle and given his durability history, Seattle would be cautious with the 19-year-old. Hankins would likely be the Mariners 7th ranked prospect.

Planez, 17, is a little more of a lottery ticket. He’s not a Top 30 prospect. He may not even be a Top 50 prospect depending on who you ask. But Planez has the intangibles scouts look for. At 6-foot-2, he’s already big for his age. He’s barely played any games stateside, but in 296 plate appearances split between the DSL and Arizona League, he’s posted a .284 average with ten home runs.

Option 2: Seattle sends Santana to the Indians, Cleveland sends only prospects.

At the end of the day, we’re splitting hairs here. The return won’t look all that different, as Moroff doesn’t carry an inordinate amount of value. But for the sake of this exercise, I wanted to be sure to push out a couple different scenarios.

Mariners Acquire: LHP Sam Hentges, RHP James Karinchak, RHP Dalbert Siri

If Cleveland is adamant about hanging onto Hankins, Sam Hentges should be the next name Dipoto requires in a deal for Santana. He’s a very different pitcher than Hankins, but considering Seattle’s lack of southpaw options on the farm, Hentges would be a very nice pickup.

At 6-foot-8, Hentges, 22, does a phenomenal job, albeit it by circumstance, of creating a downhill plane on his pitches. His fastball sits low-to-mid 90’s, more commonly falling on the low side. He brings an above average cutter, curveball and changeup to the mound as well. He’s struggled at AA this season, posting a 4.96 ERA in 89 innings, but a lot of that has been self-inflicted, as Hentges has walked 42 batters this season.

With his size, Hentges will ultimately sink or swim by whether he can repeat his delivery enough to throw strikes consistently. There’s similarities to the James Paxton of 2016 in there. While the transformation Paxton found is not the norm, there’s plenty of strength and stuff in the southpaw to reach his #2/#3 starter ceiling.

Hentges currently ranks as the Indians 10th best prospect according to MLBPipeline, and 5th best prospect according to Baseball America. He too would likely rank as the Mariners 7th best prospect.

Karinchak, 23, was Cleveland’s best minor league reliever to start the season, though he’s currently dealing with a pretty substantial hamstring tear. He’s expected to return soon. In his limited 13 innings of work across AA and AAA this season, the Indians 2017 9th round pick has a 0.00 ERA. He’s also struck out 32(!!) of the 47 batters he’s faced.

Um, excuse me?

You heard that right. Karinchak is a supreme strikeout reliever. Offering a mid-90 fastballs and 12-6 bender, his fastball shows elite late life, exploding through the top of the strike zone. Hitters are routinely swinging underneath the heater. The curveball isn’t quite as strong as the fastball, but with the deception and late life the latter provides, his curve plays way up.

As long as walks don’t derail Karinchak’s success, he’s a pretty solid bet to be a strong contributor at the big league level, if not a high-leverage arm in the late innings. He’s got major league “opener” or closer stuff.

Karinchak currently ranks as the Indians 30th best prospect by MLBPipeline, but is not ranked by Baseball America.

Siri, 23, has some truly electric stuff as well. Despite a pretty underwhelming showing over 10 innings in the AFL, Siri did register an impressive 71 K’s in 43 IP in 2018. His fastball sits mid-to-high 90s, and the slider is a plus offering right now. Like many of the names before him, Siri walks too many batters. His 5.48 BB/9 needs to come down a few ticks to ever succeed at the major league level. He’s currently cutting his teeth at AA for Cleveland, but is certainly a candidate for a September cup of coffee. He is eligible for the Rule 5 draft after this season, so Seattle would have to give out a 40-man spot this season, or risk losing their new acquisition.

Siri is not ranked by either Baseball America or MLBPipeline.

Final Thoughts

Whether or not a Domingo Santana trade actually happens, reasons for his departure make sense for the team moving forward.

  1. Seattle is chockfull of outfield options down on the farm.
  2. He is a defensive liability who has no chance of playing DH with Vogelbach firmly entrenched at the position.
  3. He will likely be owed upwards of $15m/year by the time Seattle is ready to compete.

Santana is a talented player who has been really, really fun to watch in 2019. He probably fits a contender better at this stage, especially considering the future of the Mariners. Whatever happens, the Mariners are almost certainly better off having had Domingo Santana than Ben Gamel for 2019.