KC Royals: Who’s winning the Carlos Santana trade?

(Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports) /

Carlos Santana might have once been, but no longer is, the quintessential No. 3 hitter. Late of the KC Royals but a Mariner since late June, Santana was slashing .197/.312/.384 entering Friday night’s game against Kansas City, hardly the kind of numbers big league managers typically want in the three-hole.

But there he was Friday, batting third for the Mariners in the first game of a three game series with KC that could impact the four game lead they held over Baltimore for the American League’s final Wild Card slot when the evening began.

Santana went 1-for-4 and struck out twice, and Seattle lost 5-1 in his first appearance at Kauffman Stadium since the June 27 deal that sent him to the Mariners for pitchers William Fleming and Wyatt Mills.

Seeing Santana at The K revived memories of his disappointing, and short, Kansas City tenure. KC signed him for two seasons two Decembers ago; the surprise move triggered hope he’d plug, at least until the club could fill it with a major league-ready prospect, the first base hole created by Eric Hosmer’s departure after the 2017 season.

For a time last year, Santana fit that bill, hitting 15 homers, driving in 50 runs, and posting an excellent .368 OBP before the All-Star Break. But a hip injury slowed him and he slashed .176/.254/.246 in the second half. And although his OPS was .349, he had only four homers and a .216 average when the Royals dealt him to the Mariners and received Fleming and Mills in return.

Three months later, who’s winning the trade?

The KC Royals seem to be coming out ahead on the Carlos Santana deal.

Who’s benefitting the most from the Santana trade depends on your perspective. But so far, Kansas City has the edge.

It’s not that Santana, 36 (37 next April), has failed in all respects to provide what Seattle needed—he hasn’t. The proof that his power increased with the deal lies in the 15 home runs he’s clubbed since becoming a Mariner, and he’s also driven in 36 runs. But his Seattle average (.183) and OBP (.279) certainly aren’t what the Mariners wanted and suggest they might well be in the playoff hunt even had they not acquired him.

And what of those two pitchers Seattle sent to Kansas City? Righthanded starter Fleming, 23, was 6-6 with a 4.92 ERA in 14 starts for Low-A Modesto at the time the clubs consummated the deal; the Royals assigned him to High-A Quad Cities, where he went 3-4, 5.10 to finish the year 9-10, 5.00. He’s 13-11, 4.74 over two minor league campaigns.

Righthanded reliever Mills, 27, has pitched 19 times for the Royals and is 0-1 with a 4.79 ERA. He’s currently working at Triple-A Omaha and is 2-1 with a 3.00 ERA in 11 appearances; combined with his pre-trade 1-0, 1.83 performance at Triple-A Tacoma, he’s 3-1, 2.27 in 27 minor league games this year. With the Storm Chasers’ season ending next Wednesday, whether he’ll return to Kansas City this season remains to be seen. He’s on the club’s 40-man roster, but the Royals would have to drop a pitcher from the current 28-man active roster to make room for him.

Their numbers reflect the mixed bag 2022 has been for Fleming, Mills, and Santana, but the latter’s 15 homers constitute his best number. Statistics alone, then, give the Royals a leg up on determining who’s getting the best of the June trade.

But there’s more. Because Fleming and Mills are significantly younger than Santana, much of their careers lie ahead. Santana, on the other hand, is aging for a ballplayer; that, and the fact his skills with the bat aren’t what they used to be—he arrived in Kansas City with a .359 career OBP and, excluding the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, had clubbed at least 20 home runs in seven of his other 10 seasons, and driven in at least 70 runs in nine.

So, another year in the majors isn’t guaranteed for Santana. He’s eligible for free agency after this season but, despite his power and leadership ability, probably doesn’t fit Seattle’s long-range plans and may not draw much interest from other clubs.

Give the advantage, then, to Kansas City on this deal.

Remember to thank KC, Aaron Judge. dark. Next

The Royals and Mariners continue their series tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 6:10 p.m. CDT.