ABOUT CARLOS SANTANA
When the Indians traded for Carlos Santana last week, I assumed he’d return to his old position at first base.
That’s where Santana played from 2013-17. He was a catcher before that.
But in that same 3-way deal with Seattle and Tampa Bay, the Indians also added Jake Bauers.
I’ve heard the following:
1. As of now, the Indians would like to see a lot of Bauers at first base. It’s the natural position for the 23-year-old prospect.
2. A few days before Tampa Bay traded Bauers, Rays manager Kevin Cash said this at the winter meetings: “He has helped our infielders because he gives them confidence when they throw to first base.”
3. So that leaves Santana replacing Yonder Alonso at first base. It also leaves a huge hole in left field after Michael Brantley signed a 2-year, $32 million contract with Houston.
4. Santana has let the Indians know he’s willing to try left field. As I was told, “Carlos really is willing to play anywhere that will help us. He likes to play the field.”
5. Santana will turn 33 on April 8. The Indians don’t see him as a regular left fielder, but playing out there some of the time? It’s a possibility – especially given how the roster is constructed right now.
6. In his big league career, Santana has played 695 games at first, 330 as a catcher, 45 at third base and eight in the outfield. He played two games in the outfield in 2016.
7. Part of the reason the Indians traded for Santana is they appreciate his attitude. He plays every day. He is willing to try different positions. He was the team’s opening day third baseman in 2014 when the Indians were hurting at that position.
8. Manager Terry Francona loves Santana because he’s a durable switch-hitter who can hit in different spots in the lineup. The Indians prefer Santana to the soon-to-be 36-year-old Encarnacion, who is primarily a DH.
9. I didn’t like the Yandy Diaz/Bauers part of the deal. But Francona seemed to have a hard time buying into Diaz. The manager couldn’t seem to figure out where to play him – or have the confidence to commit to him.
10. Bauers is intriguing to the Indians because he also is willing to play the outfield. He played 143 games in the minors in the corner outfield positions.
11. The Indians know they will have to be patient with Bauers. He came to the Majors at the age of 22, and struggled: .201 (.700 OPS) with 11 HR and 48 RBI in 323 at bats for the Rays.
12. In the end, the Tribe baseball people preferred Bauers over Diaz – and Tampa had the opposite opinion. It will be fascinating to look back in a year and then three years to see who made the right call.
13. The Indians believe they will be OK in center field. They like the combination of Leonys Martin and Greg Allen, both players with speed. Martin played three games for the Tribe before coming down with a life-threatening bacterial infection. He is healthy now.
14. In right field is a platoon of Jordan Luplow (acquired from Pittsburgh) and Tyler Naquin. Left field is wide open, and that’s why Santana could see some time out there.
15. I’ve not heard this, but the Indians could bring back Melky Cabrera on a very reasonable contract, and he could help as a DH. Francona really liked the switch-hitting Cabrera, who batted .280 (.755 OPS) with 6 HR and 39 RBI in 78 games for the Tribe. It feels as if he he began playing when Bob Feller was still pitching, but Cabrera is 34 – and probably can still hit.
DO FACTS MATTER?
1. The Indians have the best record in the American League over the last six seasons. In that span, they have been to the playoffs four times and never had a losing season.
2. They have an elite manager in Francona and a Chris Antonetti-led front office with a recent history of making wise moves.
3. They have ranked higher in payroll than attendance in each of the last six years. They are a mid-market team in a sport with no salary cap. Cleveland is the smallest market with big league teams in the NBA, NFL and MLB.
4. “I don’t know exactly what the Indians have brought in (revenue) the last few years,” one executive told me. “But we are in the same kind of market. I’m telling you, they lost a lot of money with that $135 million payroll.”
5. You can believe that – or not. You can say it doesn’t mater. The Tribe’s $135 million payroll was the highest in the Central Division. They ranked No. 15 out of 30 teams, according to Baseball Prospectus.
6. The Tribe’s attendance has been flat the last two seasons: ranking 22nd and 21st, about 2 million fans.
7. In the last six years, the Indians have always ranked higher in payroll than attendance. Even with the cuts in payroll, the Indians will probably spend the most in their Central Division.
8. Baseball’s economic structure remains messed up, unless you follow one of the mega-market teams. Detroit once played in that expensive ballpark. No more, the Tigers have been shedding payroll for the last two years and want to dump more.
ABOUT THE WINTER MOVES
1. Gone are Yan Gomes, Yonder Alonso, Andrew Miller, Lonnie Chisenhall, Brantley, Encarnacion, Diaz and Erik Gonzalez.
2. The only name player added is Carlos Santana. They have picked up Bauers, Luplow and some other young players. The biggest loss is Brantley.
3. I explained some of the reasoning for the moves last weekend, one key point being the Tribe will have Santana for two years at $29 million compared to one year of Encarnacion at $25 million. They have cut about $10 million from the 2019 payroll.
4. The trades have put the front office in a stronger position when it comes to dealing a starter. Some in the media don’t think that’s likely. My guess is they will deal Corey Kluber or Trevor Bauer, depending upon who can bring them the most in return. They know this roster has to improve, especially in the outfield and bullpen.
5. So how are the Indians stronger in terms of future trades? They don’t have to use a deal involving Kluber or Bauer as a major cost-cutting mechanism. As I was told, the Indians can make more of a “pure” baseball trade – talent for talent.
6. The real point is the Tribe isn’t done yet. Rumors will continue. But also remember how rumors can be so wrong. Were there any rumors of an Encarnacon/Santana deal even 24 hours before it happened?
7. It was no secret the Tribe was trying to deal Encarnacion. But who knew Santana was returning to the Tribe? That’s why I’m willing to wait.