Texas Rangers: How Does Danny Santana Get an Everyday Role?
By Kenneth Nash
Danny Santana has been the ultimate utility-man this season and needs an everyday role for the Texas Rangers moving forward.
The Texas Rangers hit a few home runs in offseason free agency this season inking players like Hunter Pence, Logan Forsythe, and Danny Santana to minor league deals. Those players have all now become core pieces of the big league club and played a huge role in Texas being 44-36 entering Thursday’s lunchtime contest against the Detroit Tigers. Hunter Pence has embraced his utility outfielder/DH role and should be the starting DH for the AL in the All-Star Game this season. Forsythe has stayed pretty consistent and played all over the infield for Texas. But Danny Santana is the one who has probably surprised Rangers’ fans the most purely because he was basically an unknown when Texas signed him. Now though, he’s solidified him as a top hitter in the lineup and hasn’t just started conversations about getting him more playing time, but he’s somewhat ending those conversations. He needs maximized playing time.
Santana has featured in 55 of the Rangers 80 games this season and is lighting it up with a .308 BA. He doesn’t meet the minimum plate appearances to be a qualifier for league leaders as he’s about 45 PAs short but that .308 average would tie him with Elvis Andrus for 7th in the AL. His .546 slugging percentage would put him in 10th in the AL. His 1.3 WAR is tied for 4th on the team with Shin-Soo Choo. Santana has played in the outfield, middle infield and at 1st Base for Texas this season making him an indispensable part of the big league team. He’s become deserving of becoming an everyday player for the Rangers, but finding a way to get him that time is easier said than done.
Evan Grant of the Dallas Morning News noted in a column yesterday that Rangers’ manager Chris Woodward “wants to play Danny Santana more”. What are the ways that Texas can manage that with the way their roster is currently constructed?
Replacing a Struggling Rougie?
The instant solution and the one plenty of fans would like to see is for Santana to replace Rougned Odor at 2nd Base. Odor has had a dismal season to this point with a batting average under .180 and an OPS of just .603 through 65 games. His WAR sits at -0.6 and his struggles have most fans fed up with his consistent role in the lineup. Sending Rougie to Triple-A would seem the move that would benefit both parties the best with Odor clearly in need of some refining. However, Odor has now crossed the service time threshold meaning he has to approve any demotion to the minor leagues or Texas risks losing him on waivers. Texas is not going to take a chance on that and the likelihood that Odor would accept the demotion is slim to none.
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Woodward could just bench Odor and play him off the bench with Santana as your everyday 2nd baseman but that doesn’t seem like a scenario the Rangers love, at least to this point. Rougie is under a long-term contract and Texas went pretty all in on him being the future at 2nd base. Yet he had a rough 2018 and has regressed further this season. Defensively he’s among the best at the position which is his lone saving grace but benching your long-term 2nd baseman isn’t really an option anybody would want to consider.
Cabrera Gets the Boot?
Asdrubal Cabrera is currently serving the 3rd game of a 3-game suspension for throwing his batting gloves at an umpire. His suspension has caused some to wonder if the door is open to Texas either trading or waiving Cabrera and going with somebody else at 3rd base. It does seem like the perfect time for a break if there’s any to be had.
The 33-year old was signed in the offseason by Texas as an Adrian Beltre replacement on a 1-year deal. He started off hot at the plate but has cooled off considerably now sitting with just a .231 average. He currently has a 0.1 WAR on the year negatively impacted by his limited ability at third. He has made some spectacular plays but overall, he currently has a -5 Rdrs (defensive runs saved above average) and he won’t be the long term fit at the hot corner.
If Cabrera gets bounced from 3rd, Texas now has to find a replacement. A straight swap for Santana is a possibility but Danny has just 6 games at 3B in his career and none since 2017. His fielding percentage in those games is .889 due to one error but he is projected to have a 10 Rtot/yr (Fielding Runs above avg per 1200 innings). I’m unaware if Santana has been getting many if any reps at third but he doesn’t seem like the natural fit.
Guzman is the Odd Man Out?
Really the option that makes the most sense is for Santana to take over at first base for Ronald Guzman. The lanky-first baseman has struggled at the plate this season posting just a .219 average and a .746 OPS. At the plate, Guzman is not producing like hoped and replacing him with the switch-hitting Santana means reducing the number of lefties Texas is sending to the plate. Additionally, Guzman still has options remaining meaning the Rangers wouldn’t risk losing him if he was indeed sent to Triple-A.
Defensively though, Santana has almost as little experience at first as he does at third. All of Santana’s 8 games at first base have come this season and while he’s been pretty good, he still has a -1 Rdrs at the position this season. Meanwhile, Guzman is arguably one of the best defensive first basemen in the game and has been a big part of the Rangers fielding success this season. It’s not easy to just replace his abilities at first despite the poor hitting.
So What’s the Conclusion?
There really is no perfect fit to give Santana an everyday, starting position. Benching Odor probably is the most natural positional fit but it really seems like the Rangers are willing to continue riding out Rougie’s struggles until they can’t. Cabrera is probably the easiest to replace on the roster but Santana’s defensive fit at third base is questionable. And as mentioned, Santana can’t replicate Guzman’s defensive abilities meaning Chris Woodward and the Rangers have to weigh Santana’s bat against Guzzie’s defense.
In the end, I’d expect Santana to continue to get playing time at a number of positions until Hunter Pence returns. Then I wouldn’t be shocked if we see Santana bounce back and forth between 2nd base and 1st base depending on who is hitting better between Odor and Guzman. Having a lot of good players is a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem and one for which the Texas Rangers must be finding a solution.