Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 41
Bob Toth | On 14, Feb 2020
Baseball takes little time off in between seasons, so neither can we. Follow along at Did the Tribe Win Last Night as we count down to March 26, when the Cleveland Indians host the Detroit Tigers for game one of the 2020 season. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 41 days
The number 41 was absent from the diamond in Cleveland for one year, but Carlos Santana brought some heart and soul back to the number and to the Indians dugout with his return to the city in 2019.
The 33-year-old first baseman, who had been a part of the Indians’ organization since he was traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers to Cleveland in 2008 (for Casey Blake), found his path back home an unusual one, but it was a sequence of moves that seemed to make the switch-hitting slugger happy and provided the Tribe with a steady, All-Star season from one of its stars.
When Santana left town following the 2017 season, he did so to a big pay day. He moved to Philadelphia, signing a three-year, $60 million contract with a fourth year option that would pay him $17.5 million. The deal lacked a no-trade clause, which came into play just one season into his Phillies tenure.
He appeared in 161 games with Philadelphia in 2018, posting a .229/.352/.414 slash with 28 doubles, 24 homers, and 86 RBI, but the Phillies wanted Rhys Hoskins back in the infield at first base. They traded Santana to Seattle with former top prospect J.P. Crawford in exchange for All-Star shortstop Jean Segura (and the $60 million left on his contract) and the services of pitchers Juan Nicasio and James Pazos.
Seattle, though, was not done with its busy offseason of wheeling and dealing. They sent Santana to Cleveland as part of a three-team trade. Edwin Encarnacion headed to the Pacific Northwest and Yandy Diaz and Cole Sulser moved to Tampa Bay as part of the Indians involvement, while Jake Bauers headed back to Cleveland. Money and a draft pick were also exchanged in a deal with lots of salary implications for the clubs.
Back where his big league career really flourished, Santana put together arguably his most complete season in the Majors. He was on the lineup card 158 times for manager Terry Francona and provided a consistent source of offense for the club throughout the year. He hit 30 doubles, matched his career high (2016) in homers with 34, and drove in a personal best 93 runs on the year. He also crushed his triple slash bests, posting a .281 average, a .397 on-base percentage, and a .515 slugging mark.
Mid-year, Santana was recognized for his solid contributions to the Tribe’s lineup by being named one of the representatives for the American League All-Star Game, hosted at Progressive Field. He was selected to participate in the Home Run Derby and, following the season, he was picked as the league’s Silver Slugger Award winner at first base.
Santana’s offensive numbers got a big boost from strong production hitting from the right side of the plate against left-handed pitchers. He hit .324 with a .428 OBP and a .551 slugging percentage with 11 of his homers and 40 of his RBI in 222 plate appearances while drawing 34 walks and striking out 34 times. His numbers were not quite at plump, but still plenty productive, from the left side against right-handers as he hit .260 with a .381 OBP and a .497 slugging mark with 21 doubles, 23 homers, and 53 RBI in 464 plate appearances (similarly striking out and walking an equal 74 times).
With the exception of his year vacation to Philly, Santana has been on the Indians’ big league roster since 2010, when he made his MLB debut on June 11 against the Washington Nationals. While that season was later lost to injury (courtesy of a nasty home plate collision at Fenway Park on August 2), the young catcher bust onto the scene the next season, when he blasted 27 homers and added 35 doubles to the Tribe lineup.
Santana’s batting average and on-base percentage steadily rose over the next few years as his power production seemed to alternate from year to year. He developed one of the best eyes at the plate in the game and led all of baseball in 2014 with a career-high 113 walks.
The Indians ultimately added other responsibilities to Santana’s slate, as the backstop eventually moved out from behind the plate. After adding in innings at first base beginning in 2011 and around four innings logged in left field during the 2012 season, he transitioned to third base briefly in 2014 before moving back permanently to first base. He has become an underrated defender there, even if the advanced metrics do not always show it.
While the numbers may have fluctuated in some categories, Santana remained a consistent source of power for the Tribe during the middle of the last decade, driving in 85 in both 2014 and 2015 and 87 in 2016. He was a big part of the Indians’ run to the World Series that year, as he set a new career high in homers and added three more in the postseason. He bounced around the lineup a bit that season, hitting fifth often, but surprising many by becoming the team’s leadoff hitter for Francona for a good portion of the schedule.
In his last season in Cleveland in 2018 before hitting free agency, he hit .259 in 154 games with 37 doubles, 23 homers, and 79 RBI while exhibiting his usual good patience at the plate, helping him earn his hefty payday.
As Santana left town for Philadelphia, he had already worn the number 41 longer than all but one of the other 14 men who had put it on before him for the Tribe.
The man to occupy the number before Santana had quite a similar path to stardom in an Indians uniform and in the Major Leagues. Victor Martinez signed with the Indians as an international free agent in 1996 out of Cuidad Bolivar in Venezuela. He reached the Majors as a September call-up in 2002, wearing the number 63, and he returned in June the next season in his new number 20. With an opportunity to serve as the club’s regular catcher in 2004 and in the number 41, he was an All-Star for the American League and was named the league’s Silver Slugger winner at catcher after slashing .283/.359/.492 with 38 doubles, 23 homers, and 108 RBI. He would put up similar power numbers over the next couple of years, despite a drop-off in run production.
Martinez was an integral part of the Indians’ playoff run in 2007. He hit 40 doubles, added in 25 homers, and drove in a career-high 114 runs while hitting .301, his third straight season over the .300 mark. He was again an All-Star and finished seventh in the MVP voting.
He was limited to just 73 games in an injury-shortened 2008 season and the following year, the Indians went into a rebuild, trading away their most valuable commodities. Martinez was one such player, dealt to the Boston Red Sox after being named to his third All-Star team. In return, the Indians received three young pitchers – Justin Masterson, Nick Hagadone, and Bryan Price.
He spent a year and a half in Boston before signing with the Detroit Tigers in free agency following the 2010 season. He remained in Motown for the rest of his playing days, working for a spell as a catcher and first baseman before settling into the role of primary designated hitter for the Indians’ division rival. At the age of 39, the five-time All-Star and 16-year big league veteran called it a career at the end of the 2018 season.
The number 41 was available for Martinez only because the man who had worn it for 13 seasons, Charles Nagy, saw his time in Cleveland come to an end when he became a free agent after the 2002 season.
Nagy was a first round pick in 1988 by the Indians, selected with the 17th pick overall out of the University of Connecticut after participating in the 1988 Baseball World Cup for the USA team. He would get the call to the Majors in 1990, appearing in nine games that season, and became a full-time member of the starting rotation beginning the following season.
By 1992, Nagy was an All-Star and would go on to post a 17-10 record with a 2.96 ERA in 33 starts while throwing ten complete games and three shutouts in a 252-inning season. Injuries cut his 1993 season to just nine games, but he would get the honor of starting the final game at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. He bounced back with a 10-8 showing in 23 starts before the strike in 1994 and was a key cog in the rotation in 1995 as he went 16-6 with a 4.55 ERA and the Indians returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1954. He made three starts in the postseason, going 1-0 with a 2.86 ERA.
Nagy was an All-Star again in 1996, matching his career-high at the end of the year with 17 wins while finishing fourth in the Cy Young voting. He would continue a streak of five straight 15+ win seasons through the 1999 campaign, when he made his final trip to the Midsummer Classic while reaching the 17-win plateau for the third time in his career.
Injuries slowed Nagy down almost permanently in the 21st century. He was limited to eleven starts in 2000, 15 appearances (13 starts) in 2001, and 19 games (seven starts) in 2002 before he left town in free agency. He signed with San Diego at the age of 35, hoping to stay in the game, but he made just five relief appearances for the club before being released in June of that season.
After his career ended, he remained around the game of baseball. He returned to Cleveland in 2004 and spent several chunks of time working with the club over the last decade and a half as a special assistant for baseball operations and later as a Triple-A pitching coach. He was also a minor league pitching coach at Triple-A for the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in 2006 and 2007 and the pitching coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks from 2011 to 2013. He later returned to the Angels under manager Mike Scioscia, working as the team’s pitching coach from 2016 to 2018, but he was let go after the long-time manager stepped down last season and was replaced by Brad Ausmus. Nagy is now enjoying time at home and hopes to get back into coaching once his daughters finish school.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images
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