The Brewers have until the end of November to decide what to do with the 13 remaining players they have on the roster that are eligible for salary arbitration. They’ve already taken care of a couple of cases, picking up a team option for Jeremy Jeffress to avoid arbitration and outrighting Stephen Vogt off the roster.
For the remaining players, we’ll take a look at what they did during the 2018 season, what they’re expected to make in a hypothetical arbitration hearing, and whether the Brewers should tender them a contract or non-tender them. Today it’s the outfielder who spent much of the year in the minors despite hitting 30 home runs the year before.
2018 salary: $572,400
2019 projection: $2 million
Coming into 2018, it looked like Santana was on the verge of becoming a superstar. After breaking through for a .278/.371/.505 line with 30 home runs, 29 doubles and 15 steals, most thought Santana would be a major factor in what could have been the best outfield in baseball with Christian Yelich and Lorenzo Cain — or at least could have been a big trade piece to help the Brewers land frontline pitching. The trade offers for Santana ended up being surprisingly light despite what appeared to be a breakout season, and he came back to camp with the Brewers.
Whether it was the trade rumors or being unable to settle into a groove while the Brewers tried to rotate 4 or 5 different outfielders, Santana’s 2018 season ended up being a massive disappointment with him spending most of his time in Triple-A trying to rediscover his power stroke.
He ended up making his return to the big league roster when rosters expanded in September and made a big impact as a pinch-hitter, going 9-for-22 in the month for a .409/.458/.909 line while hitting 2 home runs and 3 doubles. Now he heads into another offseason of uncertainty while being in line for a big raise.
The Case for Tendering
Santana’s already shown he has the tools to be an impact bat in the middle of the lineup. You simply don’t give up on 30-home run power until you have to, and while he had trouble hitting for power in 2018 — even when he was in the thin air of Colorado Springs — we know the power is there, because we’ve seen it. It’s just a matter of him being able to consistently tap into it. Middle-of-the-order power was something the Brewers’ lineup lacked down the stretch this past season, which forced David Stearns to go out and trade for Mike Moustakas and play Travis Shaw out of position in the second half. While that helped in some ways, it also made the Brewers’ lineup lefty-heavy, and the team really could have used some right-handed pop. That’s why they also traded for Jonathan Schoop, but Schoop was never able to get on one of his hot streaks, and Jesus Aguilar came back to earth after an otherwordly first half.
Simply, if Santana’s swing is right, he provides some much-needed right-handed power to the lineup and acts as a run producer outside of the Top 4 spots of the lineup. Also working in Santana’s favor is his youth. It feels like he’s been around forever, but he’ll still only be 26 next season — as I’m fond of reminding people: Domingo Santana is younger than Aaron Judge. There’s still plenty of room to improve.
The Case for Non-Tendering
While a $1.5 million raise for a guy who spent most of the season in the minors might seem a little crazy to more fiscally-minded fans, there really isn’t much of a case for a non-tender here unless the team clearly doesn’t see him as one of its four best outfielders. Even then, he should still be worth something on the trade market, even if the potential returns on a one-for-one trade last winter weren’t appealing.
Complicating the decision just a bit is the fact that Santana is now out of options, so it’s 25-man roster or bust this upcoming spring. That shouldn’t be much of a problem considering Ryan Braun’s playing time will likely continue to wane as he ages and Brett Phillips is no longer in the organization.
What Should Happen?
I’ll admit to being a Domingo Santana apologist, even with his contact and defensive flaws. I’m a sucker for opposite field power and when Santana is clicking, he can drive it the other way better than just about anyone, including Christian Yelich and Ryan Braun. The power potential is still tantalizing, and it would be hard to see Santana flourish somewhere else if the Brewers were to give up on him this winter.
With that said, it’s entirely possible with Santana’s profile that his 2017 season ends up being his career year. He’ll still likely hit 20+ home runs again if given enough at-bats, but the question is whether a contender can afford to wait for a hot streak if he takes a month or two to get going. While the route to playing time may be more clear for Santana in 2019, if the Brewers truly have soured on his future, including him in a package deal trade seems much more likely than just cutting him loose.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference