Brewers: Should Crew Take a Gamble on 1B Danny Santana?

Danny Santana, Texas Rangers (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)
Danny Santana, Texas Rangers (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images) /

The potential Brewers first base target and former Texas Ranger had a down year in 2020 but an excellent 2019 season.

Well, if any Brewers fans were hoping that the MLB Winter Meetings would finally bring some offseason news they were sorely disappointed. Outside of a possible interest in free agent outfielder Joc Pederson, no other news came from the four-day event.

That means that Milwaukee continues into the offseason with the same roster needs as they did going into the Winter Meetings. First base and third base continue to be the highest priority needs for the ballclub as well as some smaller additions to the rotation or bullpen.

Recently we looked at three first base options who would be good targets for the Brewers. They range in age, recent production and injury history, not to mention price, but would all be generally safe options for a team like Milwaukee.

But then there are the riskier options, ones where the Brewers would be counting on bounceback years. Signing a player like that could be a move similar to success story Jedd Gyorko last season, but could also turn out more like Justin Smoak in 2020 instead.

Former Texas Rangers first baseman Danny Santana would fall right into that category. Though he had a down year in 2020, he has previous seasons of offensive production that any team would dream of having in their lineup. The problem is that he’s had seasons that matched 2020 as well.

Danny Santana would certainly fill a need for the Brewers, but they would need to do their homework to determine what version of him they might be getting.

2020, like for many players, was a season to forget for Santana. After slashing just .145/.238/.273 in 15 games, he suffered a right elbow injury that ultimately required surgery and ended his season.

That was a far cry from his 2019 season. That season he slashed .283/.324/.534 with that slugging percentage and his .857 setting career highs for a season. He also set career highs with 28 homers and 81 runs batted in, as well as 134 hits, 81 runs scored, 21 steals, and 130 games played.

That was similarly impressive as his rookie season. Santana burst on to the scene as a rookie with the Minnesota Twins in 2014, hitting .319 with a .353 on base percentage in 101 games. That was good enough to help him finish seventh in Rookie of the Year voting that season.

It’s what happened between those two years that give pause. A combination of shuttling back and forth between the majors and minors and injuries (including two stints on the 60-day injured list) caused him to slash a combined .245/.284/.406 over 374 games from 2015 to 2018 with the Twins and Atlanta Braves. He compiled just a 75 wRC+ over that span.

Santana’s good and bad seasons couldn’t be more night and day. In his two high-performing seasons of 2014 and 2019, he had an OPS+ of 130 and 112, respectively. In the others, it was no higher than 64. For reference, only five players from the offensively-challenged 2020 Brewers, non-qualifiers included, had an OPS+ less than 64.

At his best, though, there’s a lot to like about Santana. In 2019, per Statcast, his exit velocity (91.4 mph) ranked in the 89th percentile, hard hit percentage (43.6%) in the 76th, and barrel percentage (9.5%) in the 66th.

There’s also the positional versatility, something the Brewers always love. Santana has played every position but pitcher and catcher in his career, which he also did in 2019 alone.

Santana does have a reputation as a bit of a free swinger lately, though. His career strikeout rate sits at 25.8%, but has been 29.5% or higher for each of the last three seasons. That is something you might take if you can secure a power hitting first baseman, though. If he does continue hitting for power, that is.

MLB Trade Rumors had Santana projected at $3.6MM in arbitration, the same as his 2020 salary, before he was non-tendered by the Rangers. The Brewers were able to get Omar Narvaez to take a pay cut after a disappointing 2020 season. If they could do the same with Santana, does it make him more worth the risk?

If Milwaukee can get him at the right price, I say it is. When he’s been injury-free, Santana has generally performed well so if the Brewers can manage that, the risk is worth the reward.

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The Brewers still need help at more than one position and Santana happens to be able to help at multiple spots. But the way this offseason has been going, it’ll be a while before fans find out if he’s the answer.