Domingo Santana has been one of the Mariners’ better offensive players in 2019, but he may be donning a different uniform before the weekend. As Jon Heyman reports, among others, the Rays and Indians have both called on the right-handed slugger in the hopes of lengthening their lineups. Aside from those two squads, a couple other teams also make sense. Let’s take a look at why Seattle would want to move its young slugger, why teams would want to acquire his bat, and what a return might look like.
Domingo Santana has drawn some interest, including from the Indians and Rays— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 28, 2019
Santana has always had a good bat. After slugging .278/.371/.505 with 30 home runs in 2017 with Milwaukee, he was forced out of the lineup in 2018 due to a slow start and the acquisitions of Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain. Two years later, it looks as though he’ll repeat his production from a couple years back, currently pacing a .273/.342/.475 campaign and 31 home runs.
His defensive shortcomings can easily be overcome with an American League contender slotting him into a full-time DH role. Many pundits believe his defense could continue to improve and rise to a passable level if positioned in right field full-time. The metrics tend to agree. Santana’s UZR is 510.0 innings in left field this season was a league worst -10.7. In 355.1 innings since moving over to right field, his UZR has improved to a palatable -3.7. It’s not great, but it’ll get the job done without making headlines for the wrong reasons.
There are five teams that make the most sense as suitors for Santana. The Indians probably fit best, but the Rays, Braves, Rockies and Giants can all make compelling cases for bringing in the 26-year-old Dominican-born slugger.
Let’s start with the Indians.
As previously written, the Indians have some serious shortcomings in the outfield. Furthermore, the team has been pretty dreadful against LHP this season. Cleveland is currently running a .246/.342/.413 line against southpaws, a major liability come October. Santana could platoon with Carlos Santana at DH, or spell outfielders Jordan Luplow and Tyler Naquin for a bigger bat in the lineup.
So what would the return look like?
Mariners Receive: RHP Ethan Hankins OR LHP Sam Hentges
As mentioned in the previous article, Hankins and Hentges make a lot of sense for a farm system still looking to improve its pitching. Logan Gilbert looks to be a lock for a rotation spot in 2021, and possibly Justin Dunn, but beyond that several question marks remain. Justus Sheffield has been underwhelming and could ultimately end up in the bullpen. Ljay Newsome has found some success in 2019, but his ceiling remains in question. George Kirby, Brandon Williamson and Isaiah Campbell all haven’t pitched above Low-A Everett, so they’re very much to-be-determined.
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.
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.
The Tampa Bay Rays are a bit of a trickier fit. Jerry Dipoto and Erik Neander have been quite fond of trading with each other, but in this case, the match isn’t as obvious. The Rays value exceptional defense. It would be pretty surprising if the Tampa Bay acquired Santana to put him in the outfield the majority of the time. In all actuality, Santana would almost certainly occupy the designated hitter position for the Rays.
The DH slot has certainly given the Rays some trouble this season. As a team, Tampa Bay is slashing just .237/.313/.390 at the “position”.
Mariners Receive: SS Jake Cronenworth and SP Riley O’Brien
Both Cronenworth and O’Brien represent players starting to “figure it out” — just the type Dipoto covets in deals.
Former Ray Jake Fraley is the perfect example. After battling injuries for most of 2016-2018, Fraley broke out the second half of last season at High-A Charlotte to the tune of a .347/.415/.547 slash. Dipoto made Fraley a priority in the Zunino deal. He’s now at AAA Tacoma and has a reasonable shot at becoming a regular in the spacious outfield of T-Mobile Park.
Cronenworth is a fascinating player. He’s received a majority of his playing time at SS throughout his career, though he’s also notched 7.1 innings on the mound as an Opener for the Rays AAA affiliate, Durham, this season.
At the plate, Cronenworth has had a pretty remarkable year. Currently slashing .342/.432/.540 with 10 home runs, the 25-year-old two-way player has clearly raised his ceiling as a potential every day asset at the big league level. As you may imagine, being a two-way player, Cronenworth has a big arm at shortstop and can make just about every throw. He receives above average marks on his run and hit tools as well.
On the mound, Cronenworth’s repertoire includes a mid-90s heater, a low-90s cutter, and a pretty danged impressive bender. He’s yet to give up a run this season from the bump. It would appear as though Cronenworth is poised to be a two-way player at the major league level. His flexibility could make for a very good asset on the diamond, especially as an opener if Scott Servais and Jerry Dipoto are creative enough to go that route.
At 6-foot-4, 170lbs, O’Brien is a slight-bodied right-hander that towers over the mound with his lanky build. His plus fastball and plus curveball make for an appealing two-pitch combo that have shown a consistent ability to get batters out. O’Brien also employs a still-developing changeup that flashes above average at times.
At 24-years-old, and having pitched over 100 innings pitched between High-A and AA this season, his 3.16 ERA and 1.17 WHIP show he certainly has the ability to control the strike zone and avoid serious damage. O’Brien isn’t a strikeout pitcher, though he’s shown a strong ability to induce ground balls. His 45.7 GB% at AA ranks among the best in AA baseball this season.
According to MLBPipeline.com, O’Brien and Cronenworth rank 18th and 19th respectively in the Rays Top 30 prospects, while Baseball America slots the two at 17th and 19th respectively.
The Atlanta Braves also make a bit of sense in a potential deal for Domingo Santana after the recent injury dealt to OF Nick Markakis. Even without the injury, Markakis has been a shell of what he was in 2018 when he was named to his first All-Star Game.
At this stage it appears the Braves will employ a combination of Austin Riley-Ender Inciarte-Ronald Acuña Jr. in their outfield. While that certainly isn’t the worst trio, it lacks depth. Riley in particular has struggled as of late and could certainly be viewed as both an offensive liability and especially a defensive liability come October.
Mariners Receive: RHP Bryse Wilson
The Atlanta Braves are absolutely swimming in pitching talent as Wilson represents one of many rotation options the Braves will have down the line. Frankly, they have so much talent on the cusp of reaching big league ball, several of their prospects will almost have to be used as trade pieces moving forward.
Wilson has already received a cup of coffee in 2018 and briefly in 2019 with the Braves. He was a fringe-Top 100 guy entering 2018, and that status really hasn’t changed. His 3.98 ERA and 1.25 WHIP at AAA Gwinnett this season shows he’s more than capable of getting batters out at a consistent level, but the results at the major league level, albeit only 25 innings, leave something to be desired. He’s had particular trouble with free passes in Atlanta, something not represented in his minor league track record. An ERA of 6.66 and a WHIP of 1.71 almost certainly aren’t representative of the pitcher Wilson is, or will become.
Just 21-years-old, Wilson has plenty of time to continue to grow and mature into a mid-rotation starter for Seattle.
While the Rockies and Giants also would be considered potential landing spots for Santana, their spacious outfields and lack of a DH spot make it hard to fathom. If either of these teams end up being the only bidder for Santana’s services, it’s possible he’s shipped to the NL West, but I just don’t see it happening.
Further muddying the waters, San Francisco has one of the more depleted farm systems in baseball and would be pretty reluctant to deal from it, considering the shortcomings Santana possesses for Oracle Park.
The Rockies also lack pitching depth in their thin farm system. It’s certainly possible Dipoto could target someone like SS/3B Ryan Vilade and a lower level SP prospect from Colorado, but the chances are slim.
In all likelihood, if Santana is flipped before Wednesday, it will almost certainly be to one of Atlanta, Tampa Bay or Cleveland. A betting man would put his chips toward Cleveland.
The odds of a Santana trade, frankly, are probably 50-50, more-so leaning toward the unlikely side. He’s a very good hitter, but he’s not a very good outfielder. The market for designated hitter types is thin right now, and unfortunately for Seattle, designated hitter rentals can probably be had for much cheaper than Santana. Guys like Justin Smoak and Hunter Pence may come at a lesser price point.
How confident are you in the Mariners FO coming into the trade deadline? Last week’s FanPulse survey showed fan confidence in the team’s direction is holding steady around 76%. Will the team’s moves (or lack thereof) at the deadline change your feelings? Sign up for the FanPulse survey and vote: it’s fun and free! Click here to make your voice heard.