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Blocking Kyle Stowers, Anthony Santander Must be Traded

Kyle Stowers goggles first hit
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With Tuesday’s trade deadline rapidly approaching, we are officially deep in the heart of speculation season. A team that was widely predicted to lose 100 games for a fourth consecutive full season instead finds themselves two games above .500 and firmly in the hunt for a Wild Card spot after eclipsing the 100-game mark on Friday night.

One big question remains unanswered – will the Orioles be buyers, sellers, or something in between?

Thursday’s unorthodox heroics by Trey Mancini on Mo Gaba Day make the idea of trading the homegrown face of the franchise a much tougher pill to swallow. Jordan Lyles’ importance to the Orioles has increased drastically with Tyler Wells landing on the injured list. Rougned Odor is certainly expendable but likely carries little to no value on the trade market. Jorge López and Dillon Tate seem like viable candidates that would net a half-decent prospect return, but why break up a bullpen that is firing on all cylinders?

I think it’s in the Orioles’ best interest to largely stand pat. If Elias thinks this team can legitimately make a playoff run this season, I could see him going after a Pablo López or Blake Snell type to solidify the rotation, provided he wouldn’t have to make much of a dent in the farm system he has worked so hard to turn into one of baseball’s best. The Seattle Mariners set the market for starting pitching on Friday night, sending four prospects (including three of their top five according to MLB Pipeline) to the Cincinnati Reds for RHP Luis Castillo. I doubt Elias would be willing to come close to that, but we can’t say for sure.

There’s one move the Orioles could make, though, that I see as almost a necessity. ESR’s Jared Pinder wrote an article on Thursday in which he broke down the team-wide possibilities, but I wanted to expand on one of those names in particular.

Anthony Santander has two years of arbitration eligibility remaining after the 2022 season; he’s not an unrestricted free agent until 2025. He’s a poor defensive corner outfielder with above average power. Entering Saturday, Santander leads the Orioles in home runs, runs batted in, and walks (I’m sorry, what?). His .251/.336/.447 slash line is unremarkable but certainly respectable. His big night on Friday (3-for-4, HR, HBP, K) helped him surpass Adley Rutschman for the team lead in OPS, OPS+, and wRC+.

By those statistics, one could make a case that Santander has been this year’s Most Valuable Oriole – an award he won in the shortened 2020 campaign. However, his value metrics tell a different story. He’s 7th among Oriole hitters with a 1.3 bWAR and 1.0 fWAR. Prior to last night’s big game, he was actually 9th on the team in the latter, below…um…Ryan McKenna. I guess Fangraphs really values defense.

I have no idea what a trade market for “Tony Taters” would look like. Frankly, I don’t particularly care. The reason I think the Orioles need to move him, regardless of what they would get back, has to do with who would likely replace him on the big-league roster.

It wouldn’t be the first time Kyle Stowers took Santander’s spot with the MLB club. When the Orioles visited Toronto for a four-game series in mid-June, Santander was unable to travel with the team due to his vaccination status. Stowers got the nod for his first big league cup of coffee, though he appeared in just two of the four games, going 1-for-7 with an RBI double.

Entering this season, I wanted to see Stowers get a full season at AAA under his belt, hoping he would cut back on his strikeout rate. Across three levels last year, Stowers struck out in 32.3% of his plate appearances. To this point in 2022, he’s lowered that rate to 24.6%, an encouraging improvement. His walk rate has dropped a bit as well, but not concerningly, as his 10.9% walk rate at AAA would be behind only Rutschman for the Oriole lead.

By swapping Santander for Stowers in right field, you’re getting an immediate defensive improvement, likely better power numbers (.277 ISO at AAA; Santander’s is .196), a higher on-base percentage (Stowers has a .357 mark throughout his Minor League career; Santander’s .336 mark this season is a career best), and significantly more upside. It’s time to give Stowers a legitimate run at an everyday role, and the only way to do that at this point is by removing one of the current outfielders. I’m not too keen on the idea of trading Cedric Mullins or Austin Hays unless the Orioles are blown away by an offer, so Santander is the odd man out.

If you’re worried about platoon splits and enjoy Santander’s ability to switch hit, have no fear. Left-handed Stowers’ 2022 numbers against right-handed pitching are good; his numbers against left-handed pitching are better. This was also the case in 2021, when he shared the Brooks Robinson Minor League Player of the Year award with Rutschman. He’s the opposite of a guy you want to bench against lefties.

I don’t want this to be taken as a hit piece on Santander. I love the guy; he’s a lot of fun. He’s the longest-tenured Oriole not named Trey Mancini (Hays debuted about three weeks after Santander in 2017). He’s provided plenty of good memories. But if GM Mike Elias wants to make an improvement to the 2022 team without mortgaging any significant part of the future, Kyle Stowers should be in the Orioles’ starting lineup on Tuesday night in Arlington while Santander is saying hello to some new teammates in a different city.

Like I said, I’m not sure what the O’s could or would get in a Santander trade. I can’t expect that it would be a significant return. I’d be satisfied with an organizational top 30 prospect. I’d be thrilled with anything more than that. Most importantly, though, I’d be ecstatic to finally open up a spot for Stowers.

Ah, who am I kidding. We’ll get DJ Stewart back.

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