The Baltimore Orioles have thus far been able to build a contender without worrying about losing any key players they developed. However, that could change following the 2024 season. 

Anthony Santander, a member of the Orioles since 2017, is currently expected to become a free agent at the end of the season.  

While Santander isn’t viewed as a pivotal part of the future in the same way as Adley Rutschman or Gunnar Henderson, it’s still worth exploring his production and the factors that could influence if he remains an Oriole. 

Santander’s production in 2023 made him one of the most important part of the Baltimore lineup. He led the team in RBIs, was tied for first in homers and had the fourth-best OPS among qualified hitters. 

That production also made Santander a top-ten right fielder in baseball last year. According to Baseball-Reference, Santander’s 3.0 WAR made him the ninth-most valuable right fielder in baseball last year. Meanwhile, his .797 OPS was sixth in baseball among RFs who qualified for the batting title, he led all RFs in doubles and finished in a tie for seventh place for homers as a RF with 28. 

 

The graph makes it clear that while Santander was a top-ten RF last year, there’s still quite a gap between Santander and some of the game’s true superstars. I don’t believe anyone has ever argued that Santander and Ronald Acuña Jr. are comparable, but it’s still worth pointing out when comparing Santander to his peers. 

While Santander can clearly provide value with his bat, he’s unable to provide much value in the field or on the basepaths.  

Defensive WAR from Baseball-Reference says he was worth -0.6 WAR in the field last year, while MLB.com’s Baseball Savant says he was in the 32nd percentile for outs above average, a metric that measures range. Defensive metrics are always more tricky than hitting stats, but multiple sources agree that Santander wasn’t exactly going to win a Gold Glove last year. 

Meanwhile, Santander’s sprint speed is also below-average according to Baseball Savant and his five stolen bases in six attempts are efficient but hardly make him a legitimate threat to steal. 

An additional wrinkle to Santander’s contribution to the Orioles is his ability to switch-hit. In fact, his switch-hitting is notable for how consistent it is. 

When Santander faced left-handed pitching he provided a .790 OPS, while his OPS from the other side was a virtually identical .798. There were 16 switch-hitters with at least 500 total plate appearances and 100 PAs against lefties last year and Santander’s .790/.798 OPS splits were the most balanced among all the switch-hitters. 

 

Santander didn’t have the highest total OPS as switch-hitter last year, but his consistently solid production from both sides of the plate certainly makes its easier to construct a lineup. 

It’s hardly a guarantee Santander’s 2024 numbers will perfectly match his 2023 season, but if they do, then that’s certainly a player who’d be a valued contributor to virtually every lineup in the league. 

Now, let’s look at what we could expect from a Santander contract. 

Based on this year’s free agent class, there are three corner outfielders who seem like fair comparisons to Santander for their age and 2023 production: Teoscar Hernández, Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler. 

 

Santander had a better OPS than Hernández and Pederson and had the best WAR among all three thanks to Soler’s underwhelming fielding. Soler used his 36 homers and .853 OPS to pick up the only multi-year contract among these players, while Hernandez got the highest average annual value by taking a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  

Across those three contracts, the average salary per year is 16.6 million dollars. While I’m not exactly predicting Santander will get a contract worth exactly 16.6 million dollars per year, that does serve as a solid baseline for what to expect if he hits free agency after this year. 

Regardless of his production and expected contract, Santander’s future with the Orioles will also be influenced by the budget of Baltimore’s new ownership and how the front office views its position player prospects. 

The news that David Rubenstein would lead the new ownership of the Orioles has been met with no shortage of celebration and deservedly so. However, none of us have any idea exactly how much the Orioles will be willing to spend under his leadership.  

The Orioles are certainly expected to spend more than they did during the last few years, but there’s a huge gap between spending like New York Mets and spending like the Arizona Diamondbacks.  

If the Orioles are able to seriously compete for virtually any free agent and can easily extend players like Adley Rutschman, then giving Santander something like a three-year deal worth 45 million dollars would be a drop in the bucket.  

However, if they need to pick and choose when they splash the cash, then giving Santander 45 million dollars might not be the best allocation of resources when that money could go towards a Rutschman extension. 

It’s also possible that the Orioles have the budget for both Santander and Rutschman, but would much rather let Santander’s playing time go towards their prospects. Letting Santander leave after this season opens up about 650 PAs in the outfield and at designated hitter that can be given to players like Colton Cowser and Heston Kjerstad. 

On the other hand, it’s also worth considering that if the Orioles keep Santander beyond 2024, then it becomes easier to justify moving a prospect like Cowser or Kjerstad for pitching.   

Regardless of what happens, the fate of Santander after 2024 will be a major data point to see how the team’s leadership views an established veteran contributor.  

Rose Katz
Rose Katz

BSL Analyst

Rose Katz is a recent graduate of the University of Maryland’s journalism school, where she worked for The Diamondback as the online managing editor and a sports blogger. As a student, she spent almost all of her time on campus in The Diamondback’s newsroom or at Xfinity Center, Ludwig Field and Maryland Stadium. Rose gained intern experience with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN).

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