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What to do with Anthony Santander

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Even though his 2020 season was cut to just 37 games due to injury, Anthony Santander broke out. Santander was named Most Valuable Oriole following a year in which he hit 11 HR to go along with 32 RBI and a slash line of .261/.315/.575. His 135 OPS+ ranked third on the team and his 1.6 bWAR led the Orioles. Santander was also nominated for a Gold Glove award, after finishing with 8 Defensive Runs Saved.

The organization hoped that the 2017 Rule 5 selection could carry this momentum into the following season and beyond. Instead of improving however, Santander regressed.

Three stints on the injured list across the season likely had a major factor in his play, headlined by an ankle sprain suffered in April which kept him on the shelf for a month. Santander’s monthly average only went above .216 once after the start of June (.309 in August), and his DRS dropped by 9, finishing with -1 for the season.

After having his name floated around in trade discussions the prior offseason, there seems to be yet another market for Santander’s services. With three seasons of team control remaining, what options do the Orioles have with Anthony Santander?

Trade Prior to Season

By trading Santander in either Spring Training or very early in the regular season, the Orioles can ensure that they will get a respectable return, while also clearing the path for younger prospects to join the major league club. This would also open the door for a possible placeholder in right field such as Brian Goodwin or Dexter Fowler. Both are veteran players who the Orioles could flip for assets later in the year if they have success.

As for Santander, trading him early may be hard after the way his 2021 transpired, but that does not mean a deal won’t be met. Teams such as the Rangers and Marlins have indicated that they hope to contend as early as this season, and may desperately look to fill their holes in the corner outfield as soon as possible. It is hard to tell these teams’ plans however, as the current lockout has frozen rosters. But with Baltimore still in the depths of a rebuild, and trading someone with as much control as Santander can help the club continue to stockpile the farm system.

Trade at Deadline

The Orioles will likely prefer to hold on to Santander with the hopes that he can return to 2020 form in the first half of 2022. By doing so, Baltimore can maximize value of the potential trade package they would receive, while also allowing minor leaguers such as Kyle Stowers and Robert Neustrom more time to hone their craft at AAA Norfolk.

Stowers broke out in a big way in 2021, his first full season of professional baseball. The former second round pick hit .278/.383/.515 across High-A, AA, and AAA, while also leading the organization in home runs and RBI with 27 and 85 respectively. Neustrom impressed as well with a line of .258/.344/.446 and 83 RBI.

Waiting until the trade deadline may not only give Baltimore better quality packages, but it will also open up Santander’s trade market to more suitors. The playoff picture will be clearer, and many contending teams will be looking to bolster their lineups, while others look to patch up holes created by injury. This could cause a bidding war, especially if Santander’s play returns to that of 2020. Baltimore could then cycle through multiple offers until they find one they like.

Build Around Current Outfield

The Orioles seemingly have two of their three outfield positions locked in for at least the next few seasons.

In center field, Cedric Mullins had one of the best seasons in franchise history as he completed Baltimore’s first ever 30/30 season in 2021. His 135 OPS+ ranked 10th in a loaded American League, and his 5.7 bWAR was over a point and a half better than the next closest Oriole.

Austin Hays also put together a good season in left field, slashing .256/.308/.461 with 22 home runs to give him 3.1 bWAR. After being bogged down by injuries throughout his minor league career, Hays seems to have found his stride and is poised for a breakout 2022.

With both Mullins and Hays under team control until 2026 and the impending arrivals of top prospects Adley Rutschman and Grayson Rodriguez, the Orioles have their core to build around. Veterans such as Santander or Mancini could then fill in the rest of the holes and serve as mentors to the new big leaguers.

At the end of the day, the Orioles should be in no rush to deal Anthony Santander. The possibility of a trade will be discussed heavily during the season however, depending on both Santander’s play, and that of Baltimore’s, but for now, it is best to wait and see.

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