Twins

Carlos Santana Isn't Another Joey Gallo

Photo Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Falvey and Thad Levine are developing a reputation for signing power-hitters to one-year deals late in the offseason. On Friday, they added another name to the list with veteran first baseman and designated hitter Carlos Santana on a one-year, $5.25 million deal.

Some of these one-year deals have paid off for the Minnesota Twins. Last season, Donovan Solano posted a 110 OPS+ in 134 games on a $2 million contract. In 2019, C.J. Cron signed a $4.8 million contract and had a 104 OPS+ in 125 games.

But they’ve also missed on one-year contracts, like when Logan Morrison had a 74 OPS+ over 95 games with the Twins in 2018.

However, Joey Gallo’s one-year, $11 million contract last year is the exception to the “there’s no such thing as a bad one-year deal” adage. Gallo had an OPS+ of 101 on the season but barely reached base over 30% of the time. He had a .301 OBP for the year and finished with a .177 batting average.

Given Gallo’s poor performance as a three-true-outcome (home run, strikeout, or walk) player, some people are concerned about the Santana signing. The concern is less about his production and more that his use as a defender could limit playing time for other teammates, and younger prospects are expected to rise in 2024.

While he will turn 38 shortly after Opening Day, Santana’s hitting abilities are much more consistent than Gallo’s. Last year, Santana hit 20 home runs, drove in over 70 runs, and posted an OPS that hovers around .750.

These numbers are much more reliable than what Gallo produced with the Twins in 2023. Gallo hit 21 home runs, but every other at-bat turned into him trying to draw a walk. He barely swung the bat in the second half of the season. Santana may not replicate his numbers in 2023 with the Twins, but the outcome is much more favorable than the standard Gallot set.

Gallo signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Washington Nationals this season, and he’s still a better player defensively than Santana. Gallo is a two-time Gold Glove winner in the outfield, and the Twins used him across all outfield positions and at first base. Santana has never won a gold glove at any position, and he has exclusively been a first baseman and designated hitter, outside of eight games in right field, since 2015.

Even though he struggled at the plate, Gallo gave the Twins more options in the outfield. Santana has more limitations, but it’s safe to assume he will mostly DH to start the season and start at first base against left-handed pitchers.

The primary reason the Twins pursued Santana is his hitting abilities against lefties. Over his career, Santana has a .276/.375/.443 with a 108 OPS+ over 2,500 career plate appearances. His numbers against lefties regressed last year, but they were still solid. He had a .266/.354/.453 with a 118 OPS+ in 161 plate appearances.

The Twins are projected to use Santana as the primary right-handed hitting platoon against lefties at first base and in pinch-hitting opportunities. They tried to do that with Gallo, but it didn’t work out as well as he had a .177/.300/.448 triple slash against righties and .180/.305/.400 triple slash against lefties in 2023.

After spending over a decade in Cleveland and a season and a half with Kansas City, Santana has played in Target Field more than any other stadium on the road. Santana has had 435 plate appearances in 98 games at Target Field. He has hit .257/.354/.453 with 17 home runs, 58 runs batted in, and 104 OPS+ in Minneapolis. Those are solid numbers for a visiting player.

Some fans may not like the Santana signing because of the clog of infielders on Minnesota’s depth chart. But his signing can finally provide the smooth right-handed hitting depth the Twins have needed in the last two years.

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Photo Credit: Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports

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