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Seattle Mariners opt for a Smooth return, re-acquiring 1B Carlos Santana from Kansas City Royals

Jerry Dipoto breaks the seal on trade season.

Kansas City Royals v Seattle Mariners Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Seattle Mariners announced this morning they have traded for veteran 1B Carlos Santana and cash from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for RHP reliever Wyatt Mills and RHP William Fleming.

This move gives Seattle another experienced bat to hopefully stabilize their gutted lineup, which has suffered the loss of Mitch Haniger, Kyle Lewis, Tom Murphy, and Ty France, and now may face at least brief suspensions to Jesse Winker, Julio Rodríguez, and others to finish the job the Anaheim Angels attempted to start with their temper tantrum. It also potentially bodes ill for how the club views the timeline for the return of France and 1B Evan White.

Santana was a genuine star in the mid-to-late 2010s, the heart of a Cleveland lineup that made it to extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series in 2016 and was a consistent playoff contender. His efforts earned him a three-year, $60 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies ahead of the 2018 season, but he was dealt back to Cleveland just one year later. Or rather, he was dealt to Seattle first, and for 10 days spent his time perhaps preparing for the first truly non-competitive season of his career, before being shuffled back a week and change later. Oh how funny fate can be.

He earned his lone All-Star nod in 2019, a rightful plaudit for his best season as a pro, but he has struggled in subsequent seasons, including both years of his two-year deal with the Royals that he inked ahead of the 2021 campaign. After hitting .214/.319/.342 for an 83 wRC+ last year in a seeming total power outage, it looked like more of the same this year with Santana getting off to an atrocious start that Seattle was privy to part of in their early season trouncing of KC.

However, Santana’s June has been a full reversal, as he’s been the 6th-best hitter in baseball (minimum 60 PAs) this month by wRC+ (198), just ahead yesterday’s brawl inciter Mike Trout. That’s pushed Santana’s numbers over yonder to a generally positive place, by which I mean the Yonder Alonso zone of unexciting competency. That means a .216/.349/.341 line and a 104 wRC+ that won’t be setting anyone’s eyebrows or undergarments alight, but is a better bet than Kevin Padlo or Drew Ellis to keep the lineup from a trip to getting perfecto’d. Santana’s bread and butter has always been his ability to get on base, as he’s walked (17%) far more than he’s struck out (13.2%) this year and in several previous seasons. It’s no mean feat for a slugger, though Santana has not quite slugged this season despite upper echelon average exit velocity, above-average hard hit rate, exceptional pitch selection, and an xwOBA above the 80th percentile. He’s a pull-heavy switch-hitter, yes, but he’s still been a bit unlucky.

In exchange, Seattle sends away a pair of young arms, one on the 40-man roster, one a ways from it. Mills was a local kid, a Gonzaga reliever through and through with funk from the right side that has not managed to translate thus far at the big league level. In theory there’s a role for him as a groundball specialist, but his command has suffered significantly as of late, and it’s unsurprising to see the 27-year-old iced out of Seattle’s future plans.

Fleming by contrast is a later round pick of a prospect but one with a bit more upward promise, and, well, upward height. The 6’6 Wake Forest product has mid-90s sinking heat that pushes upper-90s with relative consistency. To watch him throw a few pitches you might think you’re seeing a top-tier arm. Unfortunately, in games things continue to not quite play out that way. Fleming’s fastball gets caught squared up more often than the radar gun would suggest due to its sinking movement instead of carry, and while he’s working to refine his breaking balls, he has yet to polish any of them into consistent weapons, which is why he’s pushing a 5.00 ERA in Low-A Modesto as a 23-year-old. Conversely, however, 6’6 pitchers who sit 93-95 as starters are rare, so Fleming could easily still unlock another gear with the right grip or refinement to his repertoire. He projects as a reliever presently, and like Mills we wish him the best of luck.