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Anthony Santander remains at the heart of the Orioles lineup

After years of trade rumors, Anthony Santander remains one of the most important hitters in the Orioles lineup.

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Jess Rapfogel/Getty Images

The Orioles will enter the month of September with a division title firmly within their reach. Baltimore holds the best record in the American League, and the roster is filled with young talent poised to take a step forward in the postseason. What a time to be in Birdland.

In the not so distant past, September represented a time to consider the future. The club could audition middle-tier prospects, and waiver claims would attempt to justify a roster spot next season. Fans would dream of free-agent signings and propose potential trades.

Speaking of those potential trades, one player has been the subject of more rumors than any other Oriole over the last few seasons.

He’s still here.

Anthony Santander tolerated several years of scuttlebutt while keeping a positive attitude in Baltimore. Yusniel Diaz and Kyle Stowers never came for his job, and he never relinquished it. The Orioles did not trade Santander because they never wanted to lose one of their most talented hitters. The former Rule-5 pick consistently provided valuable offense from both sides of the plate and developed into a leader for a World Series contender.

Last month likely marked the first trade deadline or offseason period over the last few years that did not significantly include Santander’s name. A few speculated that the Orioles could make room for Colton Cowser, but nobody seriously expected the first-place club to give up one of its best players.

The baseball world may have finally realized that the 28-year-old belongs in black and orange, but the power hitter has still managed to fly under the radar while Adley Rutschman and Gunnar Henderson dominate the conversation. The Orioles—along with every other first place club— have several players worthy of headlines, but Santander remains capable of breaking a game any night he’s in the lineup.

Santander entered last night batting .256 with a .328 OBP. The numbers may not jump completely off the page, but his .485 slugging percentage and 123 OPS+ demonstrate the impact he can have on a nightly basis. Santander tallied four homers in his last six games, and his 25 long balls lead the Orioles.

The power is there, but it’s not only feast or famine. Santander ranks second on the team with 31 doubles, and his 48 walks tied for second with Henderson. The switch hitter holds a significant lead over his teammates with 73 RBIs.

Santander’s willingness to work a walk has coincided with the Orioles success. The Venezuela product walked only 23 times over 438 plate appearances (5.3 walk percentage) in 2021. His walk rate jumped to 8.5% last season, and Santander holds a 9.2 percent walk rate in his first 468 plate appearances this year. According to Baseball Savant, Santander’s walk percentage ranked in just the eighth percentile in 2021 but now sits in the top half of qualified batters.

The slugger’s ability to work a count could certainly come up big in the postseason. Santander fouled off 12 consecutive pitches during a plate appearance back in May before throwing his bat for a bloop single on the 16th pitch.

Santander can drive up a pitch count and deliver the knockout blow. He ranks in the 76th percentile in hard hit percentage and the 84th percentile in maximum exit velocity. He recently became the first Orioles switch hitter with at least 25 homers in consecutive seasons since Eddie Murray in the late ’80s.

Santander stepped up again last night with two outs and the game tied in the seventh inning. Batting from the right side, the UK’s favorite outfielder delivered the knock of the night with a three run double down the right field line.

Santander will never shine defensively like Cedric Mullins or Austin Hays, but he has surprisingly played close to average defense when manning right field this season. His outfield UZR sits at -0.8 this year compared to -6.1 last season.

Brandon Hyde has utilized Ryan McKenna, Colton Cowser and Aaron Hicks as defensive replacements for Santander this season, and the skipper will likely continue to utilize the strategy during the postseason. Santander remains a daily candidate to serve as the designated hitter, and there should be plenty of opportunities in the postseason with Rutschman likely behind the dish every night.

It’s not breaking news that Santander is good at playing baseball, but the guy deserves his due. He will have an opportunity with Mullins and Hays to lead this group of youngsters to the promised land, and the Orioles wouldn’t trade that for anything.