The Twins are reportedly in agreement to add veteran first baseman Carlos Santana to their position player mix. Darren Wolfson of KSTP broke the news last night, on the same day it was announced the Twins had agreed with Diamond Sports Group to broadcast games on Bally Sports for one more season, presumably bringing some degree of clarity (although probably not certainty) to the financial situation that had been hanging like a storm cloud over the entire offseason.
Word has it: 1B/DH Carlos Santana to #MNTwins. 1 year deal.— Darren Wolfson (@DWolfsonKSTP) February 3, 2024
Santana, who you undoubtedly remember from his long run in Cleveland, turns 38 in April and was with Pittsburgh and Milwaukee last season. He’s a switch-hitter who was slightly below average against right-handed pitching (94 wRC+ batting left) and decently above average against lefties (118 wRC+ batting right) last season. Over the past three seasons, Santana has hit .273/.359/.408 (114 wRC+) against left-handed pitching, with equal 11.6% strikeout and walk rates.
That pattern — a weak side of the platoon split with strong plate discipline — has more or less been the case throughout Santana’s long career and was probably one of the factors that piqued Minnesota’s interest as they looked to add some veteran right-handed balance to their young, lefty-heavy corner bat mix that includes Alex Kirilloff, Matt Wallner, Max Kepler, Trevor Larnach, and José Miranda.
Santana presumably will play a similar role to the one covered by Donovan Solano last year, albeit in a different way. Unlike Solano, who swung more than the average rate to make lots of line drive contact, Santana operates very selectively and with some occasional pop. Don’t confuse his selectivity for the three-true outcomes archetype, though. Santana also runs strong contact rates and rarely chases out of the zone.
Unlike Solano, who had some theoretical defensive flexibility to play other spots around the infield, Santana is locked in at first base and designated hitter. Also unlike Solano, Santana is more than just a competent defender at first base, having graded out as average or above average at the position by all of the major defensive metrics for the last decade.
Santana led all first basemen in defensive runs saved last season, largely due to his effort and willingness to get dirty to extend his range, according to Sports Info Solutions’ Mark Simon:
Heads-up Twins fans:— Mark Simon (@MarkASimonSays) February 3, 2024
Carlos Santana led all first basemen in Defensive Runs Saved in 2023
Wrote this in mid-August. He was playing all-out at first base, diving, sliding and jumping to extend his range. pic.twitter.com/ITvc27q6QQ
How sustainable that style of play might be as Santana heads into his 15th big league season will remain to be seen, but it is indicative of the type of player he is and his approach.
Perhaps importantly, given the long-standing injury concerns of Kirilloff, and Miranda’s shoulder surgery that ended last season, Santana has been remarkably durable and available. He’s only missed time on the injured list once, back in 2014, and has played in 130+ games in every season of his career save for his 2010 debut and the shortened 2020 season (when he played in all 60).
On the whole, on the field, Santana is a perfectly fine, if unexciting, addition to play a specific role at a reasonable price point. He has been an average bat, an average or better defender, and almost always available. As FanGraphs’ Esteban Rivera put it when Santana was traded to Milwaukee last summer:
Across the board, this is an average dude.
We know who Santana is. Santana knows who he is. The Brewers know who he is.
Santana also has a reputation for adding value off the field. Following his long Cleveland career, Santana has bounced around as a veteran role player, beginning seasons with Kansas City and Pittsburgh, and then being traded to Seattle and Milwaukee to bolster playoff pushes. In each case, Santana’s experience, positive energy, and willingness to provide leadership and mentorship in the clubhouse have been cited as positive additions to the rosters he’s joined.
There is value in that kind of stability and presence, assuming Santana can hold off a steeper decline from Father Time for another season.
The reported signing follows the trade of Jorge Polanco to Seattle for four players and cash earlier in the week and seemingly makes good on Derek Falvey’s stated intent to re-invest the ~$6.5M recouped in that deal back into the roster.
Carlos Santana Twins deal: $5.25M plus incentives— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) February 3, 2024
The Twins, who have a full 40-man roster after claiming right-hander Daniel Duarte and designating RHP Ryan Jensen for assignment earlier in the day, will need to make another move to create a roster spot for Santana.