Twins reach one-year deals with Carlos Santana, Jay Jackson

February 7th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins wasted no time using the money they saved in the Jorge Polanco trade, as they announced the signings of veteran first baseman Carlos Santana and reliever to one-year deals on Wednesday.

Terms of the deals were not announced, but according to MLB Network insider Jon Heyman, Santana’s contract is worth $5.25 million plus incentives.

Though Santana will turn 38 shortly after Opening Day, he still provided 2.7 bWAR of value to the Pirates and Brewers last season by posting a slash line of .240/.318/.429 with 23 home runs in 146 games, which would have been one long ball shy of the Twins’ team lead. His switch-hitting bat and long-established plate discipline will be particularly significant for manager Rocco Baldelli’s lineup construction following Polanco’s departure.

“I know the division really well, and the Twins have players like Carlos Correa, starters Pablo López and Joe Ryan -- players that always show up to the ballpark and always want to win,” Santana said through interpreter Mauricio Ortiz. “With players like that, it motivates you to be with them and eventually always play in the postseason.”

A longtime first baseman and designated hitter, Santana has seen his health, defense and production hold up remarkably well over the years. He represents a very neat, budget-friendly fit for the Twins’ needs -- and according to president of baseball operations Derek Falvey, the Twins are still engaged in both the trade and free agent markets for outfield and/or pitching help.

“It feels like a lot in a short period of time given [that] prior to that we did very little,” Falvey said. “I would say that our view of this is that’s just how the offseason played out for us. It took a little longer for us to maybe unstick some things and open up some doors. We’re still working to try to find ways to add to the roster if we can via trade or some different free agent conversations we’ve been having.”

Most significantly, Santana has hit better from the right side throughout his career, which continued with a .266/.354/.453 slash (and .807 OPS) against southpaws last season. The Twins needed some right-handed production to balance their platoon-heavy lineup, and Santana could give them impact -- and, at minimum, very professional plate appearances -- in that role.

The switch-hitting aspect is significant, too, because prior to Santana’s arrival, the Twins also didn’t have a clear designated hitter against right-handed pitching. They’ll figure to rotate that role to play matchups and keep their players fresh, as is Baldelli’s preference, but Santana’s ability to hit left-handed gives him the capability to occupy that important niche.

“We probably could benefit from having a little bit more on the right side there against some left-handed pitching, but he still takes great at-bats from the left side and we still think there’s some good skill there,” Falvey said.

The move also makes plenty of sense in that the Twins ideally needed more stability in their first-base depth, where they will initially rely on a platoon of the left-handed Alex Kirilloff and the right-handed Jose Miranda. Both come with significant uncertainty. Kirilloff has never stayed healthy in the Majors, with a host of wrist and shoulder issues, and Miranda is coming off rotator cuff surgery and a totally lost 2023.

It’s not a problem for the Twins to play Santana in the field, as he’s a reigning National League Gold Glove Award finalist at first base and led his position with 11 defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs. He has consistently been a positive defender, ranked above average (62nd percentile) in fielding run value last season, per Statcast, and well above average (76th percentile) in range.

It also bears mention that Santana has been a model of durability, as he has averaged 152 games per season since 2011 (not counting the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign) and has never played fewer than 131 games in a full season in that time. Considering the injury history of many key players in this Twins lineup, that holds particular importance to this roster composition.

“He’s a guy who spends a lot of time in the gym making sure his body is in a good place,” said Falvey, who has known Santana since the early days of their careers together in the Cleveland organization. “He stays really flexible. Back when he was a catcher coming up, this guy had real athleticism and tools behind the plate. He could always throw. He could always block and move around behind the plate. I think maybe sneaky athleticism in the body.”

The Twins might still find themselves a bit short on right-handed options in the outfield, but a healthier Byron Buxton could go a long way in that regard. They might still have to count on more out there from Willi Castro as a platoon bat or the emergence of Austin Martin, their No. 20 prospect in the MLB Pipeline rankings, pending another move to add to their recent spate of activity.