The Red Sox had a pretty quiet offseason this year. That tends to happen when you only have a few players going to free agency and are coming off a World Series title. They didn’t do much and, realistically, they didn’t have to. The team has come out looking a bit rough around the edges, though, and it leads to some second guessing on what we could have changed this offseason to make the team better.
Many will point to the weaknesses in the catchers spot and the bullpen as big areas for improvement. Some may question the cost of Nathan Eovaldi. One could even question the lack of Sox involvement in some of the bigger name free agents. After thinking it over, and bouncing back and forth, I’ve settled on my missed move. Domingo Santana.
Yes, I am serious. Have you stopped laughing yet? Hear me out here. The Sox do not want to go over the luxury tax, and they will need cheaper options to extend the rest of their players. We don’t have a farm system to make major trades (I was originally going to write about Goldschmidt before reconsidering). They don’t have many gaps on offense or defense that needs filling, and I trust the bullpen more then most as it is. So where is the one key area that the Sox are still lacking? The back of their lineup simply doesn’t produce (Friday’s game notwithstanding). Who was available this offseason that didn’t cost much in a trade, is cheap, and replaces someone at the bottom of that order? That’s right, Domingo Santana.
Here’s how it would all work out for me. Nunez would be gone in this scenario, with Holt as the primary infielder and JBJ the 4th OF. Santana is the starting RF with Betts sliding to CF. Is this the ideal defensive situation? Probably not. But it would be an improvement over JD Martinez in RF, and could allow him to focus on DH. Over the last three seasons, the UZR/150 for JD has been -18.2, -15.5, and -4.6. Compare this to the -14.3, -5.7, and positive 10.0 over the last three years from Santana, and you see a positive improvement. Certainly, this defense is not ideal, but Santana is passable in the OF.
However, the reason to trade for Domingo Santana is not the defense, it’s the offense. Santana has already hit 4 homeruns in Seattle and has been worth 0.5 bWAR. When Santana has been given a chance to hit in his career, he has done just that. In Santana’s last consistent playing time (2017), he had a slash line of .278/.371/.505 with an OPS+ of 126. Even his career slash line of .266/.352/.465 is good for an OPS+ of 115. Santana is an above average player even without consistent playing time, and does better with more opportunities. Meanwhile, Jackie Bradley Jr., who has been worth -0.2 WAR so far, has a career slash line of .236/.315/.402 amounting to an OPS+ of 91. JBJ’s BEST statistical season, 2016, is nearly identical to Santana’s CAREER slash line. Oh, and Santana is three years younger. And just to add even more to the argument, Eduardo Núñez would be off the roster, he of the -0.5 WAR this season and career line of .277/.313/.408 at age 31. The bWAR and overall offensive improvement would be drastic, and lengthen our lineup even further. With a couple timely bottom of the order hits this year, we could be right around .500.
Offense isn’t the only factor here either. The Red Sox need controllable players as we move into offseasons that will require some major contract extensions to our top dogs (many of which have already happened). This is another asset for Domingo Santana. Santana is currently being paid 1.95 million, and is not a free agent until 2022. Jackie Bradley Junior is making 8.55 million, and is a free agent in 2021 (and becomes expendable). Nunez, were he to be gone, is being paid 5 million this season (4 million AAV) and will be a free agent at the end of this year. Santana allows the Sox to save some money, get a younger player with more upside, AND help them make extension decisions by making JBJ expendable. To me, that is the best of all worlds.
So what exactly would Domingo Santana cost in a trade? Seattle was able to trade OF Ben Gamels and minor league A-ball pitcher Noah Zavalos. To me, a comparable package for the Sox would be something like Jarren Duran, Tanner Houck, and Bryce Brentz. I don’t think that’s exactly a match, but I think something in that ballpark would have been enough to get it done. If they wanted a major league player, JBJ, Nunez, Lin, or Wright all could have been substituted in as needed.
The Sox want to get younger. They want to extend their window, and do so in cheaper ways. The lineup becomes a black hole from 7-9. Domingo Santana, Milwaukee’s blocked 4th OF, would have fit all those needs. To me, he’s the one that got away.