Tribe Finds Santana’s Replacement in Free Agent All-Star Alonso

For those worried that the Indians were going to stand pat after the loss of first baseman Carlos Santana and the likely departure of Jay Bruce from the Cleveland lineup, the Tribe brass addressed those concerns late Wednesday with the signing of free agent first baseman Yonder Alonso.

The deal, which had not yet been confirmed by the club, is for two years and a total of $16 million, split evenly at $8 million a season. Additionally, the deal has a vesting option for 2020 worth another $8 million, per The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. The deal was first reported by USA TODAY Sports’ Bob Nightengale.

Alonso cashed in on a career year last season in the final year of arbitration eligibility. After a big first half earned him his first career All-Star Game selection, he was a trade deadline purge by the Oakland Athletics, who dealt the expendable first baseman to the Seattle Mariners for outfield prospect Boog Powell (no relation to the former Tribe first baseman of the same name).

Alonso - Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
Alonso – Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The addition of Alonso will spare the Indians from having to debate between names like Edwin Encarnacion, Michael Brantley, and Lonnie Chisenhall for first base innings in the 2018 season. Alonso, who led the National League in errors at first base in 2012, has improved his game at first in recent seasons, finishing second in the American League in 2016 in fielding percentage and ranking first for range factor per nine innings at the spot just two seasons ago. He will replace Santana at first, one season after the former catcher and third baseman showed marked improvement on the right side of the diamond.

As for the offensive side of the game, the 30-year-old Alonso put up career numbers in his two stops on the west coast last season, establishing new highs for runs (72), homers (28), RBI (67), and walks (68).

Alonso broke into the Majors in 2010, just two years after being selected by the Cincinnati Reds with the seventh overall pick in the June draft in 2008 out of the University of Miami. The La Habana, Cuba, native appeared in his first game as a September call-up in 2010 and spent 22 games in the lineup that season for the Reds before appearing in another 47 games the following season.

Following the 2011 season, he was part of a four-player package dealt by the Reds to San Diego for starter Mat Latos. He would spend four seasons with the Padres, making his first season in southern California his best as he played in 155 games as San Diego’s regular first baseman while slashing .273/.348/.393 with 39 doubles (still a career-high), nine homers, and 62 RBI. His numbers and playing time dwindled over the next three seasons and, after the 2015 season, the left-handed hitter was traded to the Oakland A’s with Marc Rzepczynski for Drew Pomeranz, Jose Torres, and Jabari Blash.

He got regular work at first base and a handful of opportunities at third base for the Athletics in 2016 while gracing the lineup card a career-high 156 times. He followed up his first season in the Bay with a strong start in 2017, hitting .266 with a .369 on-base percentage in 100 games for Oakland with 17 doubles, 22 homers, 49 RBI, and his first career All-Star nod.

In his 42 games with the Mariners after his early August trade, he hit .265 with five doubles, six homers, and 18 RBI.

How the Indians utilize Alonso remains to be seen, but it would be thought that he would slot in as the regular first baseman for the club. He was treated as more of a platoon first baseman during the 2017 season, appearing in just 54 games against left-handed pitching while hitting .181 with a homer every 16 plate appearances (with 80 total appearances against southpaws). His average was more than 100 points higher against right-handers (.282) in a significantly higher number of trips to the batter’s box (441 plate appearances), and 43 of his 50 extra base hits for the season came against those righties.

The move could be seen as a bit of a gamble for the cost-conscious Indians, who invested in Alonso after his first half power numbers dwindled away in the second half of the season after relocating to the Pacific Northwest (he had 34 of his extra base hits in the first half).

The Indians’ front office has had to consider substantial financial obligations to arbitration eligible players this offseason while devoting attention to ways to upgrade the roster without taking on too much money. The free agent first base market was drying up, however, with the expensive Eric Hosmer remaining and Matt Adams coming off of the board earlier in the week when he signed with Washington. It left just a handful of second tier options remaining, including Alonso, Logan Morrison, Lucas Duda, Adam Lind, and former Indians Mike Napoli and Mark Reynolds.

(The Indians confirmed the signing of Alonso on Saturday.)

Photo: Stephen Brashear/Getty Images

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