Indians Should Exercise Patience in Considering Santana Extension
Craig Gifford | On 12, Nov 2016
The Cleveland Indians are more than likely going to consider locking up some more of the their young core players to long-term contracts this winter. It has been their business model, and a successful one at that, over the past few seasons.
Contract extensions to the likes of Jason Kipnis, Yan Gomes, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco have been doled out in recent offseasons. Several more names could and should be high on the Tribe’s list of priorities for this winter.
One of those names that may be on the list of Cleveland’s management team is Carlos Santana. His $12 million club option for 2017 was just picked up. He is coming off of a big offensive season, is one of the longer-tenured members of the team, and will only be 31 years old for most of the coming season. The 2017 campaign marks the last one he is under contract for and is currently set to become a free agent following the season.
On the surface, it would seem to make a lot of sense to begin contract talks with Santana and his agent right away. However, that may not be the best way to proceed. This may be a case where the Indians should use some caution or patience when it comes to thinking about locking down their slugging first baseman/designated hitter for multiple years beyond next season.
Granted, Santana is coming off of a strong year, having tied for the team lead with 34 home runs to go with 87 RBI. However, 2016 was also a career year for a guy who made his Major League debut with the Tribe in 2010 and will be entering his seventh full season come April 3.
While Santana’s power numbers were not really a big shock, he has been horribly inconsistent throughout his big league career. in his six full seasons, Santana has hit more that 25 home runs three times and 20 or less three times. It has been impossible to predict, season-to-season, if he will be the impact hitter who can be the driving force in Cleveland’s lineup or not. His offensive numbers, other than a high walk rate, have been all over the map. Even his batting average, a decent .259 this year, has been all over the place. He hit .231 each of the seasons before this past 2016 campaign.
Before securing Santana’s services beyond the upcoming season with a deal that would take him into his mid-30s, the Tribe first needs to find out if he can put together consecutive strong years. To this point, he has not really exhibited that ability.
Santana put himself on the map in 2010 with six bombs in 46 games. He broke out, seemingly, the following year, belting 27 long balls and driving in 79 while serving as the team’s primary catcher. He only hit .239 that year, but at the tender age of 25, it seemed Cleveland had the power presence for its lineup for years to come.
That notion dipped a bit in 2012 and 2013 as Santana’s power numbers dipped to 18 and 20 home runs, respectively. Rather than looking like a strong middle-of-the-order hitter, he had slipped back to more of a complimentary piece who may not actually be a feared power guy.
It was around that time that Cleveland started to wean Santana way from the catching duties. Thinking, probably rightfully so, that serving as the everyday backstop was taking a toll on his body, the Tribe began experimenting with him at third base and then first base.
From a position perspective, he was a disaster at third while being serviceable at first. Meanwhile, the notion that catching was hurting Santana’s offense did seem valid in 2014. His power spiked back to his 2011 form and he again knocked 27 balls out of the park and drove in 85 runners. However, the home run total dipped back again in 2015 to 19. Of further concern was a batting average that rose each year, from 2011-2013, crescendoing at .268 in the latter of the three seasons. In 2014 and 2015, it was a mere .231.
Entering the 2016 season there was some talk that Santana’s 2017 option may not even be picked up. $12 million was a lot for a guy who was coming off a 2015 campaign of 19 homers and .231 batting average. While the home runs led the Indians, it was paltry number for someone who management felt could be much more of a force in the middle of the batting order.
Santana showed he could, indeed, be that force this year. His 34 bombs were a big reason the Indians won the American League Central Division crown for the first time in nine years and then won the AL pennant for the first time in 19 seasons.
One of any number of things could have played a part in the power surge. The Indians addition of Mike Napoli, who also blasted 34 dingers, surely took pressure off Santana to be the main source of power in the Tribe’s batting over. So, too, did manager Terry Francona‘s decision to bad Santana leadoff on a number of occasions.
Santana’s strength that has never waned has been his ability to draw walks and get on base. That is key for a leadoff guy. Not batting fourth or fifth every day likely eased any pressure he could have felt. He was also able to focus more on hitting this season. With Napoli serving as Cleveland’s primary first baseman, Santana was the DH often. Santana says he prefers to play a position but being able to concentrate more on hitting had to help his career year at the plate.
As the Indians now venture into the offseason, a lot can change. Napoli is a free agent and no guarantee to return. If he is not resigned and the Tribe does not find a suitable replacement, Santana would be thrust back into everyday first base duty. Would his offense suffer?
Even if the Indians do have Napoli or someone else to man first base regularly, there’s no guarantee that the player, even if it is Napoli, will be a 30-plus homer/100-plus RBI guy as Nap was this year. Can Santana succeed carrying the power load?
Simply put, can Santana string together consecutive good seasons and prove that he can be regularly counted on to be a true power hitter?
These are questions the Indians should have a better answer to before paying Santana a multi-year deal that most guys in their early 30s, with 35-homer power, may receive. It would be unfortunate for the team to jump the gun in March and give him five years at $70 million or so, only to see him slip back to the high teens in homers and the mediocre batting average guy that he was before this past year.
Showing some year-to-year consistency would go a long way toward Santana proving he deserves to be mentioned with guys like Francisco Lindor and Cody Allen as player the Indians definitely want around at higher salaries the next four or five seasons after this coming one.
The Indians would be wisest to wait in this case until around midseason to begin contract extension talks. If Santana is exhibiting that 2016 was not a fluke then it will be time to consider something lucrative for him. Cleveland may even need to wait until the end of the year to really get into negotiations. Of course, by then, Santana could be priced too high. However, that may be a risk the Tribe needs to take. Before tying up a large sum of money into one player, Cleveland needs some assurance the he can be trusted to not slip back to his more pedestrian ways.
Unlike the leaps of faith the Tribe has taken with other guys on the team, this one would be a larger and more expensive one. You do not take that large of a leap without some sort of safety net. Patience on any Santana contract extension may be key.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images