Healthy Santana Provides Options to Middle of the Order Moving Forward
After a disappointing 2012 Cleveland Indians season the organization is at a crossroads to decide how to progress with the organization, not just for the 2013 season but several seasons to come. Decisions involve ownerships, the front office, managerial and coaching decisions and the players. For the month of October, we’ll look at the how the Indians ended up in their current predicament, but most importantly, Where Do the Indians Go From Here. This week we analyze the Tribe’s young core of players moving forward.
By Mike Brandyberry
The Indians seemed to have two halves to their season, a positive one and negative one. The same could be true for Carlos Santana, but surprisingly, the two positive halves did not match one another.
Despite a quality second full season in the big leagues for Santana, he was plagued much of the first half by a concussion suffered on May 25 in Chicago. He would be placed on the new seven-day disabled list for concussions, but would not return to the lineup until June 5. Santana hit 18 home runs, drove in 76 runs and hit .252 for the season, but the concussion plagued his first half.
The foul ball that struck Santana’s face mask kept him out of the lineup for 10 days, but the effects were lasting for several weeks. When Santana returned to the lineup, he had the worst month of his big league career in June, hitting .161 and striking out 20 times in 81 plate appearances.
“It was a moment, having a concussion was ugly,” Santana said. “It affected my first half, but since the All-Star Break my body was 100 percent and I was able to finish strong.”
At the All-Star Break Santana was struggling while the Indians remained in contention. The switch-hitting slugger was hitting only .221, with five home runs and 30 runs batted in. Looking to the second half, the Indians felt that a healthy Santana could give their offense a boost and provide some of the production the team desperately needed.
He did his part, hitting .281, with 13 home runs and driving in 46, but the Indians and their pitching staff floundered around him. However, Santana feels the second half of his season is the type of production he feels he’s capable of when healthy for a full 162-game schedule. With a clear mind and healthy body, he feels the second half is a true representation of his quality of play.
“I feel so good in the second half,” Santana said. “I only played a good half though, I have to work to have a good full season.”
While Santana’s offensive numbers were down from 2011, one area he was able to improve was his defense behind the plate. Santana is a converted catcher, originally a third baseman in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization before making the transition in 2007. With only a few seasons in the minor leagues to develop as a catcher before making it to the big leagues in June 2010, his defense is always a work in progress.
When Santana suffered a knee injury in August 2010, ending his season in Boston, he was unable to work through most of the catching drills in spring training in 2011. This season however, bench coach Sandy Alomar was able to help improve Santana’s defensive skills this spring, putting him through the full rigor.
“Sandy has helped me a lot,” Santana said. “He sits right behind the plate. The second half has helped my body and my play and let me play and enjoy the game.”
The decision moving forward for the Indians will be if Santana’s defense has improved enough to be worth keeping him as the team’s full time catcher. The organization has already committed to Santana as a core, cornerstone player—signing the26-year old last April to a contract extension through 2016. The team has a club option for 2017.
Cleveland, who lacks a true power-hitting bat in the middle of the lineup, may deem Santana as the most likely player on the current roster to be a power threat moving forward. General Manager Chris Antonetti feels a healthy Santana has superstar potential.
“I think just looking at the numbers we have not had that superlative performance of our guys on this year’s roster, but I think we have guys capable,” Antonetti said. “I think Carlos Santana has demonstrated the way he played in 2011 and the way he played in the second half of the season that he is capable of doing that.”
If the Indians feel Santana’s star is so bright, they may consider moving him to first base or designated hitter on a full-time, or even partial basis to take away the daily wear and tear from catching behind the plate. This winter Lou Marson is arbitration eligible for the first time and will receive an increased contract, probably somewhere around $1 million—double what he made this season.
With no true first baseman on the roster for 2013, and the possibility that Travis Hafner does not return as the team’s designated hitter, the Indians could decide to give Marson more playing time behind the plate and move Santana to other holes in the Indians’ lineup. Santana’s 100 games behind the plate this year could be decreased to help stimulate the 27 home runs he hit in 2011.
Regardless of the position Santana plays in 2013, new manager Terry Francona will most likely look for Santana to be a middle of the order hitter in his lineup. The rebuild and rebirth of the Cleveland Indians will most likely hinge strongly on the player they’ve invested in the longest—and his health.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images