Fun-loving Santana dances into introductory Bucs presser

November 30th, 2022

didn’t need to say a word to make his presence known.

As director of baseball communications Patrick Kurish began setting the stage for Santana’s introductory Zoom call on Tuesday, the 36-year-old, donning the black and gold for the first time, snuck into the background and began busting a couple moves, wearing an infectious smile on his face. With the movement of his arms and the twisting of his torso, Santana instantly shifted the energy of the digital meeting room, a sequence that exemplified the intangible value he can provide.

"That's who I am -- just a really happy person. I really like to have a good time. I'm big on dancing in the clubhouse, dancing in the dugout. Getting ready for the games, you'll see me doing that,” Santana said via team director of communications Melissa Strozza. “I’m all about getting in that vibe and having a good time as we get ready for the game before you get out on the field and give it your all. I think it's important to have fun.”

Santana, whose one-year deal with the club was made official on Tuesday afternoon, wasn’t just brought in for his dancing abilities. The first baseman owns a career .791 OPS. He’s one of baseball’s better defensive first basemen. While his offensive production has dipped since 2020 (.678 OPS), he and recently acquired Ji-Man Choi form the foundation of a solid platoon at first base.

To make room for Santana on the 40-man roster, 1B was designated for assignment.

“He's been obviously a really consistent performer for a long time. He hits from both sides of the plate. He's continued to walk a lot, not strikeout, hit the ball hard,” said general manager Ben Cherington. “We believe based on the analysis we've done from his 2022 season and then potentially some benefit from the shift rules that there could be even more offense than what he showed this past year."

“The Pirates took charge and showed so much interest in me that it really made it key for me to want to take a look back and join this organization and represent them,” Santana said.

But Santana’s value to the 2023 Pirates begins -- not ends -- with his bat and his glove.

With 12.115 years of service time, Santana has far and away the most experience of any Pirate. For context, Choi is second on the team in service time at 5.076 years. There isn’t much that Santana hasn’t experienced in a baseball uniform, and that depth of knowledge will be an asset for this young and growing ballclub.

“I have a lot of years of baseball under my belt,” Santana said. “Looking forward to bringing that experience here. These young guys here, there’s a lot of talent. There’s a lot of potential. I’ve been in this situation before. I’ve been in a clubhouse with a lot of young talent. I can bring my experience and be there for them.”

“He was a player we targeted from the outset of the offseason, and then on top of that, as we did our due diligence … we got a lot of feedback about him as a person, as a teammate over the years from a lot of different sources that was an added layer of benefit on top of who he is as a player,” Cherington said.

One of those sources may have been manager Derek Shelton, who worked with Santana in Cleveland during Santana’s first Spring Training. Santana praised Shelton as a “fantastic person to work with," adding that Shelton’s personality has not changed even as his role did.

In Santana’s early days with Cleveland, he often leaned on five-time All-Star Victor Martinez. Santana recalled that Martinez would always lend an ear, and the two talked not just about baseball, but life outside the game. Santana shared that he wears the number 41 as an homage to Martinez, a tradition that will continue in Pittsburgh.

For all the wisdom that Martinez imparted, the element of dance is an idea all Santana’s own.

“That's a me thing. I'm a happy person, I love to dance. So you're going to see me dancing, you're going to see me trying to get people dancing,” Santana said. “It's something that I just started doing, and it's funny because I really tried to implement a lot in Seattle. I think it's something that we bonded over, our dancing."