Santana Irreplaceable in Tribe Lineup

When catcher Carlos Santana was injured, Monday, near the end of Cleveland’s demoralizing 11-6 home opening loss to the Yankees, it was a scary sight. He got crossed up on a pitch from closer Chris Perez and took a 90 mile per hour throw off his left hand, hurting his thumb. X-rays turned out to be negative and Santana is listed as day-to-day, and is expected to only miss a handful of games at most.

That is good news. One, because no one wants to see any athlete get badly injured. Two, because the thought of someone filling in for Santana, long-term, is a thought almost as scary as the sight of the injury.

It can be argued whether or not the Tribe backstop is the best or most talented player on the roster. However, seeing Santana go down was a reminder that he may be the team’s most indispensable one.

Indians management spent the offseason upgrading the roster. In doing so, the club added much-needed depth at most positions. If a player gets hurt in the outfield, infield or pitching staff, there is a proven, quality teammate to fill in. Losing an Asdrubal Cabrera or Jason Kipnis for any stretch of time would be far less than ideal, but at least winter acquisition Mike Aviles has a track record of being solid starter in the past. In the outfield, there is Nick Swisher who can move from first to a corner outfield spot if one of the trio of center fielders were to be out. Mark Reynolds can slide from designated hitter to first.  Both the bullpen and starting pitching staff have numerous options in Columbus.

The one spot on the diamond that does not seem to be well covered in an emergency is catcher. Yes, Lou Marson is a fine backup. However, he should not start on a regular basis. He provides a strong defensive presence behind the plate. The problem is, Marson is a less than adequate hitter.  His career batting average is .220 while the power numbers (5 home runs and 60 RBI in 765 at bats) are nearly non-existent.

Marson is great for giving Santana a break from catching a couple times a week. He can handle a pitching staff and is a tremendous team-first guy. You do not want Marson in a batting order every day.

With Marson also getting injured earlier this week and going on the 15-day disabled list, the Indians and their fans have got to see what is Triple-A Columbus holds. Compared to Santana, it is not much.

The Tribe, on Tuesday, called up Yan Gomes and Omir Santos to perform the catching duties until Santana’s thumb is healed. Gomes has played all of 46 career games, while Santos is a journeyman who has played more than 11 big league games in a season just once. Santos, at 31, has been a minor leaguer most of his career. Gomes does have potential, but is still very raw. He is not ready to be a regular in the majors. It is why Cleveland wanted the 25-year-old, acquired in the offseason from Toronto, to get more seasoning at Triple-A.

The three options directly behind Santana are not exactly great. There are two veterans who are not everyday guys and a young player who is not quite ready for the big time. It makes Santana indispensable when you think of what is behind him.

Of course, there is also the fact that Santana is a strong bat that you do not want to see leave the lineup no matter who is filling in. Prior to the thumb issue, Santana was by far the Tribe’s best hitter of the young season. He was hitting .500 (13-for-26) with a pair of home runs. Of course, the average will remain nowhere near that high as the season goes on.

Santana is not likely to lead the team in batting average, but somewhere around .280 would be nice. He’ll give the Indians around 25 home runs and 90 RBI. Both those numbers could be eclipsed by several other bats in the order. However, Santana is so far better than any other catcher in the system, losing him for a lengthy stretch would be a huge blow.

Defensively, Marson is probably better. However, Santana has improved a good deal behind the plate over the last several years. He is plenty capable of holding his own at the position and has become quite adept at throwing out potential base stealers.

In all, Santana’s presence on the team is one that can not be even close to reproduced by any other catcher in the organization. His numbers may not be the best on club, but Santana may mean more than anyone else. Pick any other player and losing them would be softer blow than losing the starting catcher for a long period of time.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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