Seattle is sending outfielder Ben Gamel and minor league pitcher Noah Zavolas to the Brewers.
With Nelson Cruz gone via free agency and recently acquired slugger Edwin Encarnacion expected to be traded at some point in the final year remaining on his contract, the Mariners have added a young right-handed hitter with power potential who is under club control through 2021 to provide depth to their roster.
“Santana was one of the most productive outfielders in baseball in 2017,” general manager Jerry Dipoto said in a statement. “He did not have the same opportunities last year, but his age and power bat from the right side make him a very good fit for our club moving forward.”
After a monster season in 2017, where he posted a .278/.371/.505 slash line with 29 doubles, 30 homers and 85 RBI, Santana, now 26, lost playing time in 2018 when the Brewers signed free agent Lorenzo Cain and traded for Christian Yelich. Cain had an All-Star season while Yelich was named the National League MVP.
With a crowded outfield, Santana saw limited time early as the fourth outfielder and struggled, posting a .249/.313/.354 slash line with 11 doubles, three homers, 17 RBI, 18 walks and 69 strikeouts in 67 games. He was optioned to Class AAA Nashville, posting a .283/.401/.487 slash line with 10 doubles, two triples, eight home runs and 35 RBI in 55 games. He returned as a September call up, appearing in 23 games and posting a .403/.458/.909 slash line in 24 plate appearances with three doubles, a triple, two homers and three RBI.
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Santana is out of minor-league options, which means he must remain on the 25-man roster or be designated for assignment. He’s first-year arbitration eligible and projected to make around $2 million this season. He has two more years of arbitration eligibility after 2019. The Mariners are hoping he can bounce back to his 2017 form while living with his propensity to strike out. Santana has struck out in 30 percent of career plate appearances. Unlike catcher Mike Zunino, who was also a frequent swing-and-miss hitter, Santana’s willingness to occasionally work a walk — a 12 percent walk rate — is welcomed.
Santana was originally signed by the Phillies as an international free agent in 2009 out of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. He was traded to Houston in 2011 as part of a five-player deal that sent Hunter Pence to the Phillies. He made his MLB debut with the Astros in 2014 and then was traded to Milwaukee with four other players in exchange for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers in 2015. He has spent parts of five seasons at the MLB level (2014-2018), posting a career .261/.349/.458 slash line with 64 doubles, a triple, 54 home runs and 163 RBI in 371 games.
Santana has played right field for much of his career, but has played a fair amount in left field, which is where he’ll share time with Jay Bruce. He is also expected to see time at designated hitter.
The Mariners have Santana, Bruce, Mitch Haniger and Mallex Smith on the roster along with Encarnacion, Daniel Vogelbach and Ryon Healy for some combination of first base and designated hitter, though it seems likely the Mariners could trade Encarnacion before the offseason ends. Does the acquisition of Santana mean a deal to move Encarnacion is imminent? Not necessarily. MLB sources have said the market for Encarnacion will be contingent on where Cruz signs this offseason. He’s currently weighing offers from the Rays, Astros, Twins and possibly one other team.
Seattle will be willing to eat some of the $20 million and $5 million buyout to move Encarnacion for a prospect return.
Gamel, also 26, was sidelined by an oblique injury in spring training and then was held down in Tacoma for an extended period due to roster issues. He appeared in 101 games, posting a .272/.358/.370 slash line with 14 doubles, four triples, a homer and 19 RBI. The Mariners used him mostly as a platoon outfielder. He saw his playing time diminish when the team acquired Denard Span and later Cameron Maybin. The Mariners viewed him as a platoon player at best and were starting to believe his power would never really develop enough to be an everyday outfielder.
Zavolas was an 18th-round draft pick out of Harvard this year. He spent time in both Short-Season Everett and High-A Modesto, posting a combined 5-2 record and a 3.03 ERA in 19 relief appearances. He’s a right-handed command pitcher with a fastball that tops out at 92 mph.