At the All-Star break, the Rangers sat on the brink of playoff contention, looking like a team that could be a surprise bet to conservatively buy at the trade deadline. However, any hopes of contention look to be quickly vanishing, and the front office may not have to debate whether to buy or sell. Sunday’s loss makes it seven straight games that the Rangers have dropped, leaving the club just a game over .500 and now in fourth place in the division.
Should the Rangers elect to trade off veteran pieces and regroup in hopes of building a future contender, utilityman Danny Santana may be among the most coveted Rangers on the market. Per J.P. Morosi of MLB Network, the 28-year-old has garnered interest from several teams around baseball and could fetch a nice return for Texas. Though no specific teams are named, it seems reasonable to assume that most every team in playoff position would welcome a versatile offensive weapon. As Morosi notes, that interest may be heightened in light of the Royals’ steep asking price for Whit Merrifield, who would be the most attractive utility player on the market if the Kansas City weren’t so reluctant to let him go.
Santana, for his part, emerged as one of a number of minor-league signings fueling the Rangers’ surprise first-half performance. Formerly of the Twins and Braves, Santana appeared to have peaked as a rookie, when he posted a .824 OPS as a 23-year-old. After that, Santana’s OPS never climbed above .606 in a single season—until now, with an evolving approach leading to an offensive breakout. After posting below-average exit velocity numbers in his first years in the Majors, balls have left Santana’s bat at an average of 91.1 mph this season, a mark that ranks in the 83rd percentile, per Baseball Savant. Not only is he hitting the ball harder, but he is elevating it, leading to a career-high 13 home runs and a .250 ISO. With average launch angles of 3.4˚ in 2017 and 9.1˚ last season, that number has jumped to 12.3˚ this season. He likewise ranks favorably in hard-hit rate and expected batting metrics, indicating that his current performance cannot be easily dismissed as a fluke.
To be sure, though, Santana has outperformed those expected batting marks to some degree: his actual wOBA (.381) is nearly 40 points higher than expected (.342) and the same can be said for his batting average (.320 actual versus .282 expected), perhaps in large part thanks to an astronomical .399 BABIP. In that respect, then, teams may be hesitant to pencil Santana in to match his first half production. Those who inquire on Santana are essentially looking at a half-season’s worth of production, making Santana a more risky investment than players with long track records of success. That may depress his value somewhat, but Rangers general manager Jon Daniels should still be able to get a solid return, especially considering that Santana received virtually no attention when he signed in Texas.
However, those expected marks are still more than enough to attract some interest from contending clubs. Santana’s ability to play across the diamond might lower the offensive bar somewhat; teams in the hunt for a World Series won’t acquire Santana with the expectation that he plays every day at one position—rather, he might be deployed a la Chris Taylor or Marwin Gonzalez, hunting favorable matchups and spelling injured or resting regulars.
Santana has appeared at six different positions for the Rangers this season, providing passable (if unspectacular) defense. If defensive metrics like DRS and UZR are to be believed, Santana fits best as a middle infielder, largely grading out below average in the outfield. However, that doesn’t mean that he can’t provide value as an outfielder—giving his manager another option is valuable in and of itself, and Santana doesn’t have to play any one position exceptionally as long as he can play several capably. He’s also stolen 12 bases at a roughly 70% clip, which is an added bonus for Santana’s skillset.
Of course, money is always of interest in trade discussions, and Santana’s value only grows from a financial perspective. Agreeing to a minor-league deal with the Rangers prior to the season, his salary comes in at the league minimum, meaning that interested teams will owe essentially negligible money to Santana, who is controllable through 2021. His combination of affordability and the potential for long-term value—in addition to on-field performance—should make him an attractive candidate for plenty of teams between now and July 31. As Rangers position-players go, Santana may be the most valuable one who is likely to be dealt.