It’s been said that life features three true certainties: death, taxes, and Anthony Santander trade rumors.
The last one may feel like a stretch to the casual observer, but anyone paying attention over the last few years knows this to be true. Fans can set their watch to Santander trade rumors around the trade deadline and early into the offseason.
Baltimore’s strong play kept the talk down last July, although some whispered that the Orioles could clear a place for Colton Cowser. Now, with the Orioles fresh off a triple-digit win total, the Santander scuttlebutt is back and better than ever.
It’s rare for a trade buzz to follow a player to this extent. The Orioles declined to send Santander to the Marlins in 2021, and the Birds squashed any rumors of the former Rule 5 pick heading to Chicago in 2022. The O’s kept Santander for the duration of the season once again in 2023, and the club recently tendered the 29-year-old a contract for 2024.
There’s a reason teams keep calling about Santander, and it’s the same reason the Birds keep turning them down. He’s a really good baseball player.
Santander slashed .257/.325/.472 last season. He tied Rookie of the Year Gunnar Henderson for the team lead in home runs at 28, and he led the team with 41 doubles. Santander drove in a club-best 95 runs, and his 152 base hits finished second behind Adley Rutschman.
Henderson and Rutschman may have stolen the show last season, but Santander remained at the heart of the Orioles lineup. He bolstered the team with 16-pitch at bats and walk-off homers. His smile lit up the clubhouse, and his bat did plenty of damage against opposing pitchers.
The power has always been there, but Santander has continued to develop as a hitter. His 41 doubles marked a significant improvement over a previous career-high 24, and he walked 55 times for the second consecutive season. He posted a 121 OPS+ and ranked in the top quarter of the league in Hard Hit percentage.
Santander, Cedric Mullins and Austin Hays have provided stability in the outfield, but Santander always ranked a distant third in defensive metrics. He struggled again with a -1 Outs Above Average, but he rarely looked completely out of place in right field. His arm strength ranked in the 62nd percentile, and he only committed one true error in over 800 innings.
Santander accounted for 72 of those innings at first base. The former Cleveland prospect took practice reps at first for multiple years before finally debuting at the position this season. The Orioles value defensive versatility, and Santander allowed Brandon Hyde to keep his bat in the lineup for a few extra games with serviceable play at first base.
Santander finished one below his projected total of 29 homers, but nobody can say he failed to meet expectations this season. Zips hit the nail on the head with a projected .256/.317/.473 line before the start of the 2023 season.
Will he be on the 2024 Orioles?
If Santander brings significant value (3 WAR according to Baseball Reference), why does everyone think the Orioles would part ways with one of their best hitters? The Birds have two extremely talented outfield prospects in Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad. Baltimore likes to keep Adley Rutschman in the lineup with the DH when he’s not behind the plate, and both Ryan Mountcastle and Ryan O’Hearn provide value at first base.
Santander will become a free agent after 2024, and he recently received a significant raise in arbitration. That being said, the Orioles are no longer a rebuilding club. The days of ”getting something in return” before a player leaves in free agency have come and gone. The money makes sense for a middle-of-the-order bat, and one more year of all but guaranteed production cannot be sacrificed solely for the sake of a Top 100 prospect.
Would the Orioles deal Santander for a significant upgrade on the mound? Probably. But it’s unlikely a team willing to part with a top arm would seek a one-year outfield rental.
Once again, there appears to be smoke without a fire. It’s fair to expect Santander on the orange carpet in 2024.
2023 player reviews: Ryan McKenna, Jacob Webb, Austin Voth/Keegan Akin, Adam Frazier, Jack Flaherty, Shintaro Fujinami, Aaron Hicks, Bryan Baker, Jorge Mateo, Kyle Gibson, John Means, DL Hall, Jordan Westburg, James McCann, Ryan O’Hearn, Mike Baumann, Ramón Urías, Cole Irvin, Ryan Mountcastle, Danny Coulombe, Tyler Wells, Cionel Pérez, Austin Hays, Yennier Cano, Dean Kremer, Cedric Mullins
Tomorrow: Grayson Rodriguez