The Detroit Tigers will need to address the first base position for 2021 and Santana is one of a few viable options for the hole
On-base ability is something that the Detroit Tigers have lacked in recent years. The ability to get on base is not only important because it reduces the number of outs made by a particular player, but a sound approach is something that figures to translate year-to-year as it does not rely on luck on balls in play. For the Detroit Tigers, someone like Carlos Santana would be a welcomed sight.
In some ways, Santana has built his entire career on the ability to take walks. Across his 11 seasons, he has walked at a 15.5 percent clip and nearly 1,000 times in his career. Despite a rather pedestrian .248 career batting average, his on-base ability makes him a desirable commodity–and for a team which ranked 28th in the league in on-base percentage in 2020, it would be a rather hefty upgrade. Only Jeimer Candelario and Willi Castro had higher on-base totals than Santana in 2020, who walked a league-high 47 times in his 60 games in 2020 while striking out just 43 times.
The first base position will be a priority in the offseason. Foremost, the club needs to do its best to keep Miguel Cabrera off the field. In 2020, we came close to the organization’s nightmare of him supplanting himself back at first base and it took moving the above-average third baseman Jeimer Candelario out of position to prevent that. Not ideal.
The club will also need a body because top pick Spencer Torkelson is undergoing a makeover in the minors; converting from a first baseman at Arizona State to a third base professional. God forbid, an early injury would undoubtedly start the clamoring from the fanbase to move him back across the diamond yet again and call him up, considering the lack of depth otherwise at the position. Also not an ideal situation that could easily be resolved from a cheap first base option like Santana.
It is not all rainbows with someone like Santana, though. The peripheral stats suggest a regression has already started. He would be 35 just after the start of the 2020 season and his exit velocity numbers when from being in the top 9 percent of the league in 2019 to the bottom 36 percent of the league last season; suggesting the quality of the little contact he makes any way has started to regress. His Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) also went from a 135 to 95 between 2019 and 2020, meaning he made a below-average offensive impact despite his excellent walk rate.
Defensively, the metrics are a bit split. Baseball-Reference has Santana at +1 defensive runs saved in 2020, while Statcast has him in the 11th percentile in their Outs Above Average statistic. In reality, the eye test says Santana is likely somewhere in between; likely below average at this point in his career, but not someone at the bottom of the league just yet.
The value in Santana is not projection; it is the assurance and predictability of what he is likely to produce through a season. He played all 60 games in 2020 and has never played in less than 143 games in a full regular season since 2011. After the Detroit Tigers were left scrambling after Cron’s injury, some health and stability alone would be coveted.
The options on the market for first basemen are limited and perhaps I am skipping over the idea that Cleveland will not pick up his $17.5 million club option for the 2021 season, but assuming he is indeed available this offseason, he should be on Detroit’s shortlist of options.