MILWAUKEE (AP) — Veteran first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana has grown accustomed to changing teams quite a bit during his productive major league career, yet his latest move caught him a little off guard.
The Milwaukee Brewers acquired Santana in a Thursday trade that sent minor league infielder Jhonny Severino to the Pittsburgh Pirates. The move takes Santana from last place to first place in the NL Central.
“A little bit surprised,” Santana said on a conference call. “Most of the time, a team doesn’t try to trade a player to the same division.”
The 37-year-old Santana hit .235 with 12 home runs and 53 RBIs in 94 games for the Pirates, who have fallen off significantly after a fast start. He also leads all major league first basemen with six defensive runs saved, according to FanGraphs.
His career also has included stops in Cleveland, Philadelphia, Kansas City and Seattle.
“We value what he does on both sides of the ball,” Brewers president of baseball operations Matt Arnold said. “That’s kind of been our DNA all year. We talk about adding offense. I think all of us want to try adding a bat, but I think we also don’t want to do it at the expense of our defense. I think that has been a strength of ours. With somebody like Carlos, we feel like we were able to check a lot of boxes there.”
The Brewers lead the NL Central despite ranking just 25th in runs scored, thanks in large part to a lack of production from the first base and designated hitter spots all season.
First baseman Rowdy Tellez is batting .213 with 12 homers – down from 35 last season – and has been on the injured list for the last three weeks. Tellez had 17 stitches removed this week from his left ring finger, which suffered a tuft fracture when it got stuck in the outfield wall while he was shagging fly balls in Cincinnati. Tellez already was on the injured list with right forearm inflammation when he hurt his finger.
The Brewers acquired Jesse Winker from Seattle this offseason with the intention of making him their main designated hitter, but he is batting .199 with only six extra-base hits (five doubles and one homer) in 197 plate appearances. Winker’s prolonged slump has caused his playing time to drop significantly.
Milwaukee’s acquisition of Santana indicates the Brewers’ intention to upgrade their roster this summer as an attempt to atone for last year’s fade.
The Brewers owned a 57-45 record and a three-game lead in the NL Central race last year when they traded four-time All-Star closer Josh Hader to the San Diego Padres, a move that stunned the clubhouse as well as the fan base. The Brewers went 29-31 the rest of the way and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
The Pirates signed Santana to a one-year deal in the offseason, hoping his veteran presence could provide stability to a young roster trying to learn to win. Pittsburgh got off to a 20-8 start, but has stumbled for most of the last three months.
Santana could be the first of several Pirates who could be on the move with a shot at the postseason unlikely. Pitcher Rich Hill, who like Santana signed a one-year deal in the offseason, could be attractive to a contender. The Pirates also have a pair of young All-Stars on the roster in closer David Bednar and pitcher Mitch Keller, both of whom are affordable and under team control, making them a potentially attractive target for teams in the thick of the playoff chase.
The 18-year-old Severino has played 12 games this season in the Brewers’ Rookie-level Arizona Complex League. He has batted .250 with a .289 on-base percentage, four homers, 10 RBIs and five steals while playing both shortstop and third base. The Brewers signed Severino out of the Dominican Republic last year.
“He walks in the door and he looks like somebody who would be a free safety at the University of Alabama,” Arnold said. “He’s that kind of athletic physical specimen. He’s big. Big shoulders. Can barely fit through the door. He runs well. Has a chance to play on the dirt. Has power. All the ingredients of a guy you would hope to get. Honestly, they should be happy with his player. He’s a really interesting prospect. We know he’s far away, but again, we know we have to give up something of quality to access a player like Carlos Santana.”
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.