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Making a case for Danny Santana being impactful

I’m not sure if I believe it, but there’s a case.

Texas Rangers v Seattle Mariners Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

The Red Sox are still working to find the right mixture of players on their roster. For the most part, their core is pretty well set and good enough to win games, as we’ve seen pretty much all year. The depth, on the other hand, is leaving something to be desired. We talked earlier this week about the return of a trio of players from injury and the ensuing roster decisions that would have to be made. Kiké Hernández has already come up and he’s swinging a good bat in his first few games back. Christian Arroyo appears to be on his way too, likely starting a rehab assignment soon. And then there’s Danny Santana, who seems like he’s going to be up very soon and given an opportunity to run with a role on this Red Sox team.

I don’t want to spend too much time talking about counter moves for Santana, but it is worth mentioning just quickly that the Red Sox are going to have to take someone off the 40-man roster. Most likely that will be Austin Brice being designated for assignment, though that’s not set in stone. It’s also possible they bring up another reliever in their place while optioning Michael Chavis and Franchy Cordero as well in order to keep the 14-man pitching staff, though the sudden lack of pitching depth in the high minors makes that difficult. We’ve talked enough about this subject, though, and I want to focus on Santana rather than what else happens on the roster.

Boston Red Sox Spring Training Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

To be frank about it, I’m not very confident in Santana and I’m a little confused by the team being so gung-ho about bringing him up, even before he started swinging the bat in the minors. It’s been puzzling to watch considering that we’re not talking about some unknown quantity here. Santana is 30 years old and has spent at least part of the year in the majors every season going back to 2014. In that span of seven seasons, he’s had two seasons in which he’s been a better-than-average hitter. In the other five seasons, he’s been at least 40 percent worse than the league-average hitter in each of them. That’s a long track record of being essentially unusable, and a good reason to doubt him. But since he’s coming up, and likely soon, I wanted to look at things in a more positive lens and give myself a reason to believe he can make a legitimate impact on this roster.

We should start out with the reason why the Red Sox are going to be making this move soon, and why it has been on the radar for so long. Santana signed a minor-league deal with an opt-out, and while that date was pushed back due to the foot infection that delayed his preseason workouts, it is coming up again soon. Given how poorly things have gone at the bottom of the depth chart for position players, combined with that opt out, it makes sense to give him a shot. Like I said, I’m not confident about his impact based on the track record, but I certainly can’t argue against giving him a chance.

But it’s not just giving him a chance for the sake of doing so. There is a legitimate case I’m starting to talk myself into for him actually being able to stick around all year, which is how I would define making a legitimate impact in this case. And it starts with how he’s swinging the bat right now. Granted, we know we shouldn’t read too much into minor-league performance from a major-league veteran, particularly in a sample of only eight games. But he’s undeniably swinging a hot bat, hitting .433/.471/.833 with three home runs. That’s at least some positive momentum and shows that he’s seeing the ball well against lesser competition.

But really, I think the case comes down to what he did most recently and what his skillset entails. To the former point, it was only two years ago when he had a big breakout with the Rangers and was a really good player. He finished that 2019 season hitting .283/.324/.534 with a 111 wRC+, 28 homers and 21 steals. He followed that up poorly with a 40 wRC+ in 2020, but it was a tiny sample of 63 plate appearances and came in a COVID season that, frankly, is not one from which I’m forming many opinions on any players. So there’s an argument to be made that Santana never really got a true chance to build off that 2019 success, and this would be the first year he can do that.

The other part of it is his skillset and looking at the more tangible effect of providing a spark. The Red Sox don’t necessarily need a spark as a team, but the bottom of their lineup certainly needs one. Santana is the type of player who can provide just that. He has some pop, he runs the bases well, and he can play defense at just about any spot on the field. The performance needs to be there too, but this is the exact kind of profile that can provide that intangible bump teams are looking for from call ups, particularly call ups who are not expected to fill an everyday role.

If I’m being honest, I’ve not been completely successful in talking myself into Santana as a player who can earn a spot on this roster for the entire season. At the end of the day, that track record is just not enough for me to think he’ll be up. That said, I will reiterate that I’m not arguing against the idea of calling him back up. And on top of that, between the way he’s swinging the bat in the minors right now and the relative proximity of that 2019 season, you can see a path to success here with this player. You just have to squint a bit to really see it.