When the Milwaukee Brewers sent outfielder Domingo Santana to the Seattle Mariners for outfielder Ben Gamel and pitcher Noah Zavolas, fans may have had a puzzled look on their faces.
Domingo Santana, just 26 years old, had just come off a 2017 season where he hit 30 home runs and hit .278/.371/.505 while playing in 151 games. He seemed to have solidified his position in the outfield, before the Milwaukee Brewers made moves to bring in veteran center fielder Lorenzo Cain and MVP outfielder Christian Yelich.
Santana struggled to find playing time, and his swing, as his numbers plummeted in Milwaukee. He was sent down to Triple-A to get playing time and find his stroke. After hitting .283/.401/.487 with eight home runs, Santana came back to play well as a pinch hitter in September.
Without minor league options and with no starting spot in the outfield available, it was inevitable that Santana was going to be traded. David Gasper with Reviewing the Brew wrote in a blog post almost two weeks before the trade that it was time for Santana to move on from Milwaukee.
But why for another 26-year old outfielder?
To this point in his career, Ben Gamel hasn’t been a show stopper. A career .269/.331/.392, Gamel has just 13 career home runs and 11 stolen bases in 268 games between the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners.
Gamel, the 10th round pick of the New York Yankees in the 2010 amateur draft, hit well in his first couple minor league seasons with Staten Island (.289/.373/.432) and Charleston (.306/.342/.394). However, he never found the same success at the plate in Double-A until 2015. Gamel put it all together with Scranton-Wilkes Barre by hitting .300/.358/.472 with 150 hits including 28 doubles, 14 triples, 10 home runs and 64 runs batted in.
This changed the team’s outlook on Gamel as he was named the International League Player of the Year and landed on the 40-man roster. He started the 2016 season in Triple-A again, but his bat was still hot as he hit .308/.365/.420 with 26 doubles, five triples and six home runs in 116 games. After a short stint in May and a call up in August, Gamel was traded from the Yankees to the Mariners on August 31, 2016.
How did Gamel do in the Majors?
In two full seasons with the Mariners, Gamel hit .274/.335/.398, collecting 210 hits, 67 walks while striking out 183 times.
“During his young career, Ben has proven that he can hit at the major league level. His left-handed bat and outfield versatility also provide solid fits for our roster,” Milwaukee general manager David Stearns said on after making the trade.
Gamel has proven he can hit. In 2017, from May 1st to September 1st he had a split of .285/.337/.403 in 103 games. He had 113 hits including six home runs, four triples and 20 doubles.
In the same time frame in 2018, Gamel hit .312/.393/.418 in 70 games, but it was obvious that he had fallen out of favor with the Mariners coaching staff. He only got 189 at-bats and started just 48 games in that time frame.
Gamel was sent back to Triple-A Tacoma on August 1st and from the 2nd to the 19th he would hit extremely well going 24-for-65, slashed .369/.423/.615, and struck out just nine times.
Where is Gamel’s hidden value?
Gamel also has shown he is a situational hitter. Last season he posted a .313/.424/.354 split with runners in scoring position. He has hit best in the 4th, 5th and 6th innings posting a .354 batting average. When batting ninth he was at his best as well, hitting .333/.438/.519, and could bring a little more life to the bottom of the Milwaukee Brewers lineup in the dog days of summer.
It’s the roster flexibility and potential that makes Gamel a more attractive option then Santana in 2019 and in the future. In August, he was only at Triple-A for 19 days, if he had stayed one more day the Milwaukee Brewers wouldn’t have that option and the roster flexibility to utilize Gamel’s skills in the major leagues while giving him the chance to play in the minor leagues.
How about the move to Miller Park?
Gamel will also play his home games in a hitter’s park, one that treats left handed hitters well. Since opening Safeco, now T-Mobile Field, in 1999, the park has been famously known as a pitcher’s park, one that forced former management to reshape the outfield, move in the walls and lower the height of the walls. When players leave Seattle, they often find more success away from the Emerald City.
If you want some perspective, outfielder Michael Saunders played 507 games for Seattle from 2010 to 2014, hitting .231/.304/.392 before being traded to the Toronto Blue Jays. In the season to follow he hit .253/.338/.478 in 140 games. He had 51 home runs in Seattle in five seasons, while hitting 24 with Toronto and making the All-Star team in 2016.
Another former Mariner to look at is Blue Jays first baseman Justin Smoak. In four seasons with Seattle, Smoak hit .225/.309/.382, with 363 hits including 70 doubles and 61 home runs. In the four seasons to follow with the Toronto Blue Jays, Smoak hit .244/.336/.472 with 405 hits including 89 doubles and 95 home runs and earning an All-Star nod in 2017.
Both players left Seattle at age 28 and found success elsewhere.
How much will Gamel cost?
Gamel also will be under team control til 2023 and isn’t arbitration eligible until 2020. This allows the Milwaukee Brewers to save money on their backup outfielder. This also sets up the Brewers for manageable payroll in future.
The Brewers know that after the 2020 season, they will have flexibility in the outfield with Ryan Braun’s contract coming off the books. The team knows that they will have to pay Yelich, and by saving money on Gamel, will help the team keep payroll down and remain competitive.
The team will have to wait and see if Gamel can live up to the hype he had in the minor leagues and become an All-Star himself after leaving Seattle.