After a week of speculation and his sighting at the Indians complex in Goodyear, Arizona, the team announced formally on Friday the signing of free agent outfielder Domingo Santana to a one-year contract with an option for 2021.
According to MLB Network’s Ken Rosenthal, the $1.5 million deal comes complete with $500,000 in roster bonuses for the 2020 season. There is a $5 million option in place for 2021 that could grow based on each roster bonus earned this year. Cleveland can buy out the option for $250,000.
To make room for Santana on the 40-man roster, the Indians have designated utility man Andrew Velazquez for assignment.
The signing of Santana is the second significant free agent addition by the Indians in a very quiet and underwhelming offseason for the Tribe. After signing second baseman Cesar Hernandez in December, the team’s activities were limited more to speculation around Francisco Lindor trade destinations. Besides the contracts for Hernandez and Santana, the Indians’ other significant offseason transaction was the trade of pitcher Corey Kluber to the Texas Rangers for outfielder Delino DeShields and reliever Emmanuel Clase.
Santana joins a rather lengthy group of outfielder candidates on the Indians roster, including DeShields, Greg Allen, Jake Bauers, Daniel Johnson, Jordan Luplow, Oscar Mercado, Tyler Naquin (when available after rehabbing from his ACL surgery), Franmil Reyes, and Bradley Zimmer. The team has also extended non-roster invites to Mitch Longo, Connor Marabell, and Ka’ai Tom.
The 27-year-old Santana completed his sixth big league campaign in 2019 while serving as a member of the Seattle Mariners. The 6’5”, 220 lb. outfielder appeared in 121 games for the M’s, posting a .253/.329/.441 slash on the year with 20 doubles, one triple, 21 homers, and 69 RBI. Strikeouts have been a big part of the right-handed hitter’s game over the course of his career and that was no different with Seattle, when he was retired on strikes 164 times in 507 plate appearances. He also missed a month with right elbow inflammation.
Santana entered the pro game in 2009, when he was signed as an amateur free agent by the Philadelphia Phillies. He was the player to be named later in a trade with the Houston Astros in mid-August of 2011, completing a five-player swap centering around Hunter Pence relocating to Pennsylvania.
Santana debuted in 2014 with the Astros, going hitless in his first 18 plate appearances, but he got on the board in 2015 when he hit .256 with the club over 14 games. He was part of his second deadline deal that season when he was joined by teammates Josh Hader, Adrian Houser, and Brett Phillips in moving to the Milwaukee Brewers organization for pitcher Mike Fiers, outfielder Carlos Gomez, and cash.
He saw regular playing time with the Brewers, hitting .256 in 77 games in his first full year with Milwaukee in 2016, but he missed time with both a right shoulder strain and right elbow soreness. He followed that with what remains his best season to date, when he worked as the Brewers’ right fielder for the entire season and played in 151 games, slashing .278/.371/.505 with 29 doubles, 30 homers, 85 RBI, and 15 stolen bases (all career bests). He spent just half of the 2018 season in the Brewers lineup, providing the club with a .265/.328/.412 triple slash with 14 doubles, five homers, and 20 RBI around time back at Triple-A Colorado Springs. He came off of the bench a great deal, working 32 times as a pinch hitter. He was optioned mid-year, costing him roughly ten weeks of action, after a power outage and a drop off in most every offensive statistic after his breakout season the year before.
After the season, Santana was dealt to the Mariners for Ben Gamel and minor leaguer Noah Zavolas. He made $1.95 million with Seattle in 2019 and was projected to make $4.4 million in arbitration this winter (according to MLB Trade Rumors), but he was non-tendered ahead of the deadline.
The defensive side of the game has not been the strongest aspect of Santana’s skill set. He has worked at all three outfield spots in his career, but would be more expected to log innings in the corners. Of the 420 games that he has played defensively, 330 have included time in right field, making that most likely his more comfortable position of play.
The switch-hitting Velazquez came to the Indians quietly in early July of last season when he was exchanged for international bonus slot money with the Tampa Bay Rays. At the time of the trade, he was on the minor league injured list at Triple-A while dealing with a right thumb and right hamstring strains.
After getting in some work with the team’s Arizona League affiliate, he reported to Columbus for the final month of the minor league schedule, but he did miss two weeks after aggravating the hamstring injury. He was a late September call-up for the Indians, joining the expanded rosters on the 17th before appearing in five games for Cleveland, going 1-for-11 at the plate with seven strikeouts.
Prior to coming to Cleveland, Velazquez appeared in ten games for the Rays, posting a similar 1-for-12 number with six strikeouts. He made his big league debut the year before, working 13 times for Tampa Bay while hitting .300 (3-for-10) with just three strikeouts.
The removal of Velazquez from the 40-man roster thins out the Indians’ utility depth on the roster further. Another acquisition from Tampa Bay last season, Christian Arroyo, and long-time Tribe prospect Yu Chang are the closest options to utility men on the current roster heading to Arizona. Mike Freeman, who was previously designated for assignment by the club, will also be in spring camp with the Indians on a non-roster invite.
The Indians have seven days to trade Velazquez, release him, or place him on outright waivers with the hopes of retaining his services. He has two minor league options remaining, which may make him more attractive to clubs looking for another body for spring competition.
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