Viewing the Baltimore Orioles through the crystal ball
Let’s do some serious imagining. Let’s pretend the 2024 season is about to start. Let’s also pretend that the top 10 prospects for the Baltimore Orioles have panned out just swimmingly and are all ready to play in the big leagues. Here’s how the starting lineup and rotation could potentially look along with how old each player would (roughly) be:
- LF: Heston Kjerstad, 24
- CF: Austin Hays, 28
- RF: Yusniel Diaz, 27
- 3B: Rio Ruiz, 29
- SS: Richie Martin, 29
- 2B: Jordan Westburg, 24
- 1B: Ryan Mountcastle, 26
- C: Adley Rutschman, 25
- SP: DL Hall, 25
- SP: Dean Kremer, 28
- SP: Grayson Rodriguez, 24
- SP: Michael Baumann, 28
- SP: ?
I am very obviously assuming a lot here. Here’s a look at what FanGraphs projects for playing time for the O’s in 2021. A lot will change in the next few years. But, if the team did not think it would shape out like what I’ve listed above by 2024, then what are they doing?
I would imagine that a 2024 season looking like the one above would be pretty exciting, but not one that would be winning the AL East. 2024 brings a very young rotation, a player at 3B who probably won’t actually make it that far, and no Anthony Santander.
More enlightened O’s fans may notice that Trey Mancini is missing as well. While we are all rooting for a Mancini comeback, he hits free agency in 2023 and remember, we’re in 2024 here. At the end of the 2019 season, Mancini’s free agency value, based on FanGraphs WAR converted to dollars, would have been nearly $30 million.
For the purpose of this analysis let’s assume Mancini does make a successful comeback and the Orioles don’t pay up when he hits free agency. To be fair, when he does he’ll be 31 years old.
Baltimore Orioles: Examining Anthony Santander
Now, on to Santander, who hits free agency in 2025 and finished his most recent season with a WAR-to-dollar value of $7.1 million. He’s projected by FanGraphs Depth Charts to be a 1.7 WAR player in 2021 after a 0.9 WAR 2020.
Now, remember that the pretend 2024 season lineup listed above shows us what the year could look like if Santander simply disappeared like Thanos snapped his fingers and turned him to dust. Remember, we’re pretending.
Let’s use the multiverse, quantum realm, AntMan thingy to go back to the present day. At the time of this writing, Santander has requested $2.475 million before the 2021 season and is headed to arbitration.
This tells us that his value is increasing as a cost-controlled player and that his overall/expected value is much greater according to WAR to dollar value, essentially saving the Orioles over $4 million in 2021, depending on what comes out of arbitration.
If that value stayed the same for the next four seasons and Santander were paid this arbitration value, he would cost the Orioles $16 million over that time and then hit free agency.
In this scenario, Santander would spend his last season with the Orioles before free agency and could be added to the 2024 list above as a starter, bringing a younger player back down into development. This is one option.
The second option asks us to think about the 2024 projection and how it could be improved had Santander never disappeared and returned trade value instead.
The Orioles are not short on outfield depth even with Santander gone, not short on the young potential in the starting rotation and are looking good up the middle, especially if you add in the only missing top 10 player from the list, Gunnar Henderson.
If you could trade Santander for two players, what positions would you then take? If you have any answer other than replacing third base, you’re not really catching my drift here.
Surely Santander’s current trade value is worth more than just a third base prospect and adding in a piece to start replenishing the future of the bullpen could really move this 2024 projection into a playoff competing team.
- Option 1: Keep Santander, pay him money and hope that he can be extended/keep progressing during that time knowing that this value won’t translate to postseason wins.
- Option 2: Trade Santander and return value that matches up a little better age-wise with the 2024 projection above. If the Orioles can get a return like this for Santander, they should do it.
Certainly, I’ve done a lot of imagining here, but it’s also a lot to imagine that Santander will continue to play at his 2020 level and then continue that into his 30s. Now is the time to trade, bringing in young talent that could improve upon this pretend world for the Baltimore Orioles in 2024 and beyond.