The Twins announced they have signed Carlos Santana to a one-year contract. The veteran first baseman, an Octagon client, is guaranteed $5.25MM on a deal that also includes performance incentives.
At the start of the offseason, president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said the team was open to adding at first base. That preceded three months of a dearth of activity on both the trade and free agent fronts. With an expected payroll reduction as they anticipated a dip in their local broadcasting revenues, the Twins made essentially no acquisitions.
Things kicked into gear this week with the trade sending second baseman Jorge Polanco to the Mariners for a four-player return. Two of the players headed back to the Twin Cities — reliever Justin Topa and starter Anthony DeSclafani — addressed a portion of the pitching depth the team lost with Sonny Gray, Kenta Maeda, Tyler Mahle and Emilio Pagán signing elsewhere.
The trade presaged a free agent acquisition on the position player side, as Falvey acknowledged shortly after it was finalized. Minnesota offloaded Polanco’s $10.5MM salary. They took back Topa’s $1.25MM deal and assumed $4MM of the $12MM owed to DeSclafani for the upcoming season. That netted them $5.25MM in cost savings — the exact amount they’re now committing to Santana.
Moving Polanco indirectly opened the door to a more defensively-limited hitter. Edouard Julien now has a path to everyday reps at second base. Julien will still see some action at designated hitter but won’t log nearly as many at-bats there as he would’ve had Polanco still been on the roster. Santana and Alex Kirilloff should share the majority of the playing time between DH and first base.
Even as he nears his 38th birthday, Santana is better suited to play on the infield than at the DH spot. He remains a solid defender at first base. Statcast and Defensive Runs Saved each typically grade him slightly better than average with the glove. DRS estimated he was 11 runs above par a year ago, while Statcast had him at +2 runs.
The defense accounts for a good portion of Santana’s value. He’s a solid hitter but doesn’t have the kind of offensive firepower typically associated with the position. He’s coming off a .240/.318/.429 showing across 619 plate appearances split between the Pirates and Brewers. He hit 23 home runs, 33 doubles, and picked up his first triple in four years.
That offensive output was essentially league average, as measured by wRC+. He also rated as an average hitter in 2022, when he put together a .202/.316/.376 line in 506 plate appearances between the Royals and Mariners. While his triple slash stats were quite a bit higher in ’23 than they’d been the year before, offense was up around the league. (The league OPS jumped from .707 to .734.) Milwaukee’s American Family Field, where Santana finished last season, is also a far more favorable hitting venue than are either of the parks he called home two years ago.
Park-adjusted metrics didn’t feel Santana took a major step forward at the plate. That sentiment was apparently shared by the market, which valued him fairly similarly as it did a year ago. His 2024 salary is a little below the $6.725MM he’d been guaranteed on his one-year pact with Pittsburgh.
A switch-hitter, Santana has been more effective from the right side. Over the past two seasons, he owns a .266/.370/.430 line in 303 plate appearances against left-handed pitching. That’s quite a bit better than his .208/.298/.397 showing against righties. Santana’s recent productivity versus southpaws is appealing to a club that struggled somewhat in that regard a year ago. Minnesota had a .244/.330/.432 batting line against right-handers while hitting .241/.313/.414 against lefties.
Assuming Byron Buxton can play center field most days, which is the current expectation, most of Minnesota’s in-house DH possibilities hit from the left side. The corner outfield trio of Max Kepler, Matt Wallner and Trevor Larnach are all lefty bats, as is Kirilloff. Santana complements the group from a handedness perspective.
Perhaps more importantly, he has also been incredibly durable. Santana has remarkably gone on the injured list just one time since 2014 (a minimal stay for ankle bursitis in May ’22). He has played in 130+ games in every full schedule since 2011 and appeared in all 60 contests during the shortened season. That kind of reliability pairs well with Kirilloff, a talented hitter who has been bothered by various injuries to this point in his career.
Kirilloff has missed time in all three of his MLB campaigns. Right wrist injuries led to extended absences in his first two seasons, culminating in season-ending surgeries both years. He battled shoulder problems last season and underwent a labrum repair in October. While he’s expected to be ready for Spring Training, the injury history has to be of concern to the front office. Last season’s 88 MLB games represented his personal high.
Minnesota’s payroll projection jumps back to the approximate $123MM figure at which they started this week, as calculated by Roster Resource. They’re reportedly aiming for a season-opening payroll in the $125-140MM range.
Darren Wolfson of SKOR North first reported the Twins and Santana had agreed to a one-year contract. Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported the $5.25MM guarantee and inclusion of performance bonuses.
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