The tears had barely dried from Game 7 of the World Series, but the Cleveland Indians were already hard at work on Thursday looking ahead to their defense of the American League pennant. The first step in that process was taken care of as designated hitter, first baseman, and even occasional left fielder Carlos Santana will return to the team in 2017, according to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian.
In a move that seemed a near guarantee all season long, the Indians will exercise the $12 million team option on Santana for the 2017 season, bringing back one of the team’s top offensive weapons during their magical run to the playoffs that ended with a loss in the club’s first World Series trip in 19 years.
In a career year at the plate, the 30-year-old switch-hitter set several new personal bests during his seventh season in the Majors. He appeared in a career-high 158 games, setting bests for plate appearances (688), at bats (582), runs (89), hits (151), homers (34), RBI (87), slugging (.498), and total bases (290). He drew an even 99 walks to 99 strikeouts over the course of the year. His free pass total was good for the third-most in the American League. He was also eighth in the league in on-base percentage. He put together a triple slash of .259/.366/.498 for the season.
Santana wore multiple hats for the Indians this season, starting with his placement in the lineup. After starting the year hitting behind Mike Napoli in the batting order, manager Terry Francona experimented with Santana in the leadoff spot and he immediately contributed, hitting a leadoff homer off of Justin Verlander in Detroit during a 2-1 win at Comerica Park on April 22. He continued to work at the top of the lineup against right-handed pitchers and would drop into the fifth spot against left-handed pitchers when Rajai Davis entered the lineup in the outfield.
He slashed .260/.385/.502 out of the leadoff spot and .259/.339/.481 out of the fifth spot in 2016.
Twenty of his 34 homers came at Progressive Field. Thirty of his homers for the year came off of right-handed pitchers while swinging left-handed. His power was dramatically tilted to the left side of the plate, as he had 23 doubles and 30 homers against right-handed pitchers and eight doubles and four homers against left-handed pitchers in nearly 300 fewer plate appearances. He put together a 14-game hitting streak from June 30 to July 17 and reached base safely in 23 consecutive games from August 30 to September 23.
Down the stretch, Santana hit .327 with a .454 OBP and .625 slugging with nine doubles, two triples, six homers, and 21 RBI in 29 games over September/October of the regular season schedule.
During the postseason, he went 10-for-52 (.192) at the plate with a .295 on-base percentage in the three rounds. He was 2-for-11 (.182) against Boston in the ALDS with one hit by pitch. In five games in the ALCS, he went 3-for-18 (.167), but two of his hits were solo home runs and he added two walks. In the World Series against Chicago, he had his best round of the playoffs, going 5-for-23 (.217) with a double, a homer, and two RBI while drawing six walks to give him a .379 OBP over the seven games with the Cubs.
He worked primarily as the team’s DH, appearing in 92 games there while hitting .263 with 17 homers over the course of the year. He also played 62 games at first base, hitting .254 with 17 more homers, and made a pair of starts in left field during the road portion of the World Series when the club was without a DH. They were the first two starts at the position of his Major League career.
Retaining Santana also provides the Indians with a bit of insurance at first base in the event the club is unable to re-sign Napoli. The right-handed slugger put together a career year of his own and provided plenty of power in the middle of the lineup with Santana, but he turned 35 on the final day of October and is expected to see multi-year contract offers in free agency. The namesake of the fan favorite slogan seen on t-shirts and ball park signs throughout the season has expressed an interest in returning to the organization.
With Santana in tow for 2017, the Indians now have to make decisions regarding potential pursuits of pending free agents Napoli, Davis, and Coco Crisp, with the latter all but expected to be playing elsewhere in the coming year. The majority of the rest of the roster will be returning for the Indians next season as they enter the year with a target painted squarely on them as the AL’s champions.
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