The Milwaukee Brewers have traded Domingo Santana away, which shouldn’t come as a surprise. But the return for Santana is a little surprising.
We knew Domingo Santana’s days with the Milwaukee Brewers were coming to an end. To see him go to the Seattle Mariners, a rebuilding team, was no surprise.
But when the return was announced, outfielder Ben Gamel and pitcher Noah Zavolas, many Brewers fans were confused. Moving Santana to clear space in the outfield made sense. It allowed Keon Broxton to remain the fourth outfielder, and he was able to play all three positions and bring great speed and defense.
But adding not only an outfielder, but a proven major-league outfielder in Ben Gamel, seems a little odd.
Why Target Gamel?
The big difference between Gamel and Santana is that Gamel is a left handed hitter, who should help balance the Brewers lineup. Christian Yelich and Travis Shaw were the only regular lefties returning to the Brewers lineup next year.
Another important reason to acquire Gamel is that he has one minor league option remaining, whereas Santana had none.
But why get a major league player just to option him to the minor leagues? This seems like the exact same situation the Milwaukee Brewers found themselves in last year with Santana. Gamel has the capability to start, and would start on most teams, but with Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Ryan Braun entrenched out there, where is there going to be room?
The Brewers believed things would figure themselves out, and I guess it worked out in their favor considering they won 96 games and made it to the NLCS. But the outfield logjam worked out terribly for Santana. He was squeezed out of the picture and his numbers took a nosedive.
Why shouldn’t the same thing happen with Gamel? He’s an everyday type player, who is now going to have to split time in the outfield, and if he falls into a slump, he probably won’t play.
Gamel is not any better than Santana defensively, and his numbers on offense are worse than what Santana put up.
During 2017, breakout seasons for both players, Santana hit .278 with 30 homers, and a .875 OPS in 525 at-bats, while Gamel hit .275 with only 11 homers and a .735 OPS in 509 at-bats.
Gamel doesn’t possess the same kind of pop that Santana does, but he also strikes out way less often than Santana. Gamel whiffs at a 22.1% clip while Santana sits at a 31.9% strikeout rate.
Also, Gamel did play those years in a very pitcher-friendly ballpark in Seattle. Meanwhile, Miller Park is a very friendly place for hitters, especially left-handers.
What About Noah Zavolas?
Zavolas was drafted in the 18th round in June. Stearns was apparently targeting him in that round, but the Mariners took him just before the Brewers were about to.
Zavolas has already been converted into a reliever, and posted a 3.03 ERA in 19 appearances in his first year in professional ball.
He’s a lottery ticket, and no one really knows if he’ll become an impact big league bullpen arm, but David Stearns must feel like he’s got some lucky numbers with this kid.
Is This A Good Value Trade?
The value in the return is fairly equal to what they gave up in Santana. Gamel is a slightly worse offensive player and it’s a wash defensively. For that lower offensive output, the Brewers get a lottery ticket bullpen arm. So it’s an even trade, but why does this trade still seem weird?
Why Another Outfielder?
I think this is what everyone is hung up on in this trade. If you’re trading Domingo Santana to clear the logjam in the outfield, why would you bring back another major league outfielder to continue the logjam?
Yes, the minor league option won’t have the logjam be as bad, since Gamel can be sent down. But this is kind of screwing over Gamel. The guy won’t have a legitimate shot to lock down a starting job and he’s going to get sent to the minors a couple times through the season after having been a decent starting outfielder the past two seasons.
Is Gamel going to take to a part-time role better than Santana did? Santana struggled when not getting regular ABs. If Gamel can succeed in a pinch-hit role and stay in a groove when he starts, then he’s an upgrade. Maybe there’s a way their analytics department can tell he’ll succeed when not getting every-day ABs, I don’t know.
But the Brewers outfield picture is just as murky as it was before the trade. All they gained was a lottery ticket they were hoping to draft in the 18th round.
I would have to think David Stearns isn’t done reshaping this outfield. Whether it’s flipping Gamel or trading away Keon Broxton, there’s likely going to be another move coming.
The Milwaukee Brewers made the right move getting rid of Santana, but it remains to be seen if the return package will pan out the way Stearns hopes it will.