Should the Orioles give Anthony Santander the contract extension he's looking for?

Baltimore has a pretty tough choice to make regarding Anthony Santander's future with the club coming up.
Division Series - Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles - Game Two
Division Series - Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles - Game Two / Patrick Smith/GettyImages

For any team, including the Baltimore Orioles, one of their goals should be for their best players to want to stick around for the long haul. The Atlanta Braves have famously built a roster where guys have been willing to sign team-friendly contract extensions because they want to keep the squad together and compete for a World Series every year. In a vacuum, that feels like a model the Orioles should want to follow.

One player who's been quite vocal about wanting a contract extension from the Orioles is Anthony Santander. Santander has forged himself from a guy the Orioles basically got for free in the Rule 5 draft to one of their most consistent sources of offense over the last several seasons. Since 2019, Santander has averaged a .778 OPS while cracking 110 homers. Not star level production per se, but very solid overall.

So, should the Orioles extend Santander and keep him from hitting free agency after the season? Well, that is a much trickier question to answer and it all comes down to cost and the alternatives available.

The Orioles probably need to let Santander walk after the season

While the recent news that the sale of the Orioles should be finalized sometime in April gives some hope things could change, it is unlikely that Baltimore is going to turn into a free-spending juggernaut overnight, if at all. With Santander already set to make $11.7 million in 2024, it is fair to guess that he will at least want to match that AAV or exceed it with his next extension, and whether or not he is worth that is pretty iffy.

Santander has been a fine player, but he does have his warts. He doesn't hit for a particularly high average or get on base at a high clip, and he is neutral on the defensive side at best. Assuming a world where the Orioles' payroll is still even somewhat constrained, using that kind of money to retain Santander when all of the young guys on Baltimore's roster are going to start getting raises in arbitration in the coming years might not be a sound decision.

Complicating matters is that the Orioles somehow have more young prospect bats than they know what to do with right now. Sure, these guys aren't proven commodities like Santander which does matter, but Colton Cowser, Jackson Holliday, Heston Kjerstad, Coby Mayo, Samuel Basallo, and Connor Norby are all at Double-A or higher, are going to be vying for playing time this year or next, and all have significantly more upside than Santander. Certainty matters, but the Orioles got where they are by betting on upside, and they have done it better than anyone else.

Now, if Santander wants to sign a cheap extension with the team to be on the front lines for what looks like a protracted run of contention, then it is more than reasonable to keep him. However, if he is wanting closer to what he considers to be his market value from the Orioles, Baltimore just needs to thank him for his service and let him get paid elsewhere.

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