As the Cleveland Indians look toward the 2016 season, they know they are set in several positions.
Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley have put together seasons, this year and last year respectively, that would merit MVP consideration. Kipnis won’t finish as high the third place position Brantley had in 2014 because the Indians’ record doesn’t figure to be as good.
And the starting pitching has at least four spots in cement, barring a deal for a legitimate bat, with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar anchoring the rotation.
You also have to figure that Francisco Lindor’s showing in his first big league experience gives him a leg up on the SS position, and Yan Gomes and Roberto Perez give the Tribe a solid catching duo.
That leaves RF, CF, 3B (has Giovanny Urshela done enough?), and DH as wide open spots heading into the off-season.
Notice that we haven’t talked about first base.
The incumbent, Carlos Santana elicits much debate among Cleveland baseball fans regarding his worth as a key component to the Indians.
On paper, Santana is a pretty good offensive player having a poor season, although the stat based people will tell you he is just fine. Even with his .223 batting average in 2015, he still is above league average according to OPS.
Still, since belting 27 home runs and knocking in 79 runs in 2011 at age 25, Santana really hasn’t blossomed into the hitter that season seemed to indicate he would be.
He had hit more than 25 homers just once in that span (last year with 27), and knocked in over 80 runs just once, also 2014 with 85. That’s not quite the production you would expect from someone at a premier power position.
The switch-hitter had more value when he spent most of his season behind the plate. The kind of offense he provided as a catcher was well above average for the position. As a 1B/DH, his numbers are just so-so. And his biggest value on offense is his ability to take a walk. He struggles with men on base, mostly because he appears to be too anxious to hit a long ball.
That’s weird because of his normal patient approach.
The lack of run production stands out in the AL Central where Miguel Cabrera, Eric Hosmer, and Jose Abreu play the same spot. Here are their OPS–
The production the Indians receive from their first baseman pales by comparison.
Cleveland owes Santana $8 million for 2016, and the question is can they afford to pay that much cash for below average (for his position) production.
The guess here is that Santana’s days in an Indian uniform are numbered.
For one, we are hearing the switch-hitter being criticized on the air by both radio and television announcers, which can mean that the front office personnel are feeding the media their dissatisfaction.
Secondly, Santana’s defense isn’t strong either. While work with the glove isn’t a high priority for a first sacker, the Tribe seems to be putting a new-found priority on defense, and may be looking for someone who can improve that spot.
The reality is that Carlos Santana is a solid offensive player, but he’s not a middle of the order bat, which is what the Indians need him to be. If their lineup was strong enough to bat them sixth or seventh, that would be fine, but right now, it is not possible.
So this winter, when GM Chris Antonetti looks for a big bat to help the ’16 batting order, he will be looking for one that can play first, while he dangles Santana to get help somewhere else.