I’ll preface this but saying Twitter isn’t the best place to gauge public opinion.
It is a platform invented for people to air their grievances. Kind of like a never-ending electronic version of Festivus.
Yet Twitter is still the best way to get a quick sampling of public opinion.
Thus, I was quite surprised to look at my Twitter feed on Saturday morning and see as many negative responses as I did about the Pittsburgh Pirates coming to terms on a contract with free agent first baseman Carlos Santana on Friday night.
The theme that carried through each tweet was that a 36-year-old does not fit on a rebuilding team. The belief is the Pirates would be better served to save the roster spot for a younger player.
To that, I call bull.
Santana is not going to come in and suddenly turn Pirates into contenders by himself. Even at his best, when he was starting in an All-Star Game and playing in a World Series, Santana wasn’t the type of player who was going to carry a team to the postseason.
However, Santana is a competent big league player. Heaven knows those have been in short supply on the Pirates’ roster the last two seasons when they finished 61-101 in 2021 and 62-100 this year.
Seriously, how many times can you be subjected to watching Josh VanMeter play first base in a big league game?
Perhaps all the losing has numbed Pirates fans’ minds to the point where they truly believe having a minimum wage player on the roster is more beneficial than an actual big league player. Lord, I hope not.
Even at the end of his career, Santana should provide a boost to an offense that was 27th in the league in runs scored and 28th in on-base percentage last season. I recently expounded on why I thought Santana would be a good fit for the Pirates.
The days of Santana hitting 34 home runs in a season like he did in 2019 for the Cleveland Indians are over. The switch-hitter was the American League’s starting first baseman in that season’s All-Star Game three years after helping Cleveland reach Game 7 of the 2016 World Series before losing to the Chicago Cubs.
Yes, his 2022 slash line of .202/.316/.372 with 19 home runs in 131 games with the Kansas City Royals and Seattle Mariners was underwhelming. However, his 100 OPS+ meant he was right at league average offensively.
Being league average looks pretty good on a team whose first basemen compiled a 61 OPS+ last season. The 91 OPS+ by the Pirates’ designated hitters could certainly use a boost, too.
However, there are also intangible reasons why the Pirates are willing to pay Santana a salary of $6.725 million next season. Chief among them is Santana being a good clubhouse guy.
Every young team needs some veteran leadership regardless of how far it seems away from contention. Santana provides that in spades.
The Dominican Republic native has long had the reputation of being a great teammate. As he has gotten older, he has become a strong mentor-type figure to his younger Latin American teammates.
Nobody in the Pirates’ clubhouse needs a mentor more than shortstop Oneil Cruz, the cornerstone player of the franchise’s rebuild.
The 24-year-old has plenty of talent but still has a learning curve when it comes to becoming a professional. There have been growing pains.
Santana could really aid in Cruz’s development as much off the field as on.
If Santana can be a league-average offensive performer and play a hand in launching Cruz toward superstardom, it will be well worth the Pirates supposedly clogging up the roster with an older player.
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