When the Kansas City Royals signed first baseman Carlos Santana to a two-year, $17.5 million contract this past offseason, they were hoping to get the Santana of old. They got that for the first half of the season but by the time injuries took their toll on the veteran first baseman/designated hitter, he was a shell of himself.
In 2020, Santana posted a .199/.349/.350 slash line. That was good for just a .699 OPS, by far a career-low figure. He still managed to walk a ton in the pandemic-shortened season, but his strikeout rate was the highest it had been since his rookie campaign in 2010. By many measures, Santana appeared to be aging. He managed to silence most of his critics in the first half of this past season, as his .421 SLG and 15 home runs through 89 games helped fuel a .789 OPS. Not great, but much better. He was thereby fixed, right?
Not so fast.
Hip and quad injuries derailed Santana's season as in the second half, he hit just four more home runs with a SLG of .246. His on-base percentage also cratered to .254. He wasn't walking as much, he was striking out far more often and he had virtually no power in his bat anymore. Nevertheless, as the ultimate gamer that he is, Santana played through the pain and tried to help the Royals win. He then received a platelet-rich plasma injection early in the offseason in an effort to facilitate the healing process and, according to an article by Lynn Worthy of The Kansas City Star, he's now feeling healthy again.
“Now, I feel 100 percent,” Santana said. “I keep working on my body, but right now I feel 100 percent.” - Santana to Worthy this winter.
That's great news for the Royals, but it isn't as if Santana is a young player who randomly had a bad year that was ruined by injuries. He will turn 36 years old in April and has struggled in one-and-a-half of his past two seasons. It's reasonable to assume that some of his power will return with health but even then, he wasn't exactly hitting the cover off the ball before sustaining getting hurt.
The Royals' organizational depth should also be taken into account here. Not only will a player like Hunter Dozier almost surely be looking for a position change in 2022 (he has experience in right field, but also first base), but the club has plenty of young talent that will soon be ready to assume significant roles at first base. Nick Pratto is one of the better prospects in all of baseball, Vinnie Pasquantino's resume speaks for itself and MJ Melendez will also need to find reps. Santana isn't without competition at this stage in his career and at this stage in the Royals' rebuild.
This isn't to argue that Santana doesn't deserve a shot to be an everyday player moving forward. With that said, his contract is tradeable should the Royals opt to see what their young bucks can do in 2022. If the organization decides to buy into Santana's rumored health in belief that he'll have a bounce-back campaign, his leash should be relatively short. There are multiple factors that come into play and while drinking the Kool-Aid here is fine — especially considering Santana's positive reports as of late — Kansas City would be wise to be at least a little hesitant to do so.