We've been running through the 2014 season for each member of the Indians and key prospects from their farm system. (You can find every entry in the series here.) Now we've reached a countdown of the top ten players on the team, as voted by the Let's Go Tribe staff.
#4: Carlos Santana
- Position: First base
- Age: 28
- Acquired: Via trade with Dodgers (7/26/08) for Casey Blake
- Contract status: $6 million in 2015, under contract through 2017
Early last offseason someone suggested that Carlos Santana might move to third base. I brushed that idea aside as absurd, because I didn't see how it could work. I was proven wrong... sort of. Santana didn't want to be moved into a fulltime DH role, which is basically what happened to him in the final couple months of 2013. First base was viewed as spoken for, because the team wasn't paying Nick Swisher all that money just to create memes. Third base was viewed as a potential opening, and Santana spent much of his offseason playing in the Dominican Winter League, working on his third base skills. When spring training rolled around, Santana got most of the playing time at third base, while also continuing to work as a catcher. When the season began, Santana's was the Tribe third baseman.
In the season's first week he started four games at 3B, one at C, and one at DH. He hit .316 and drew 8 walks. Things then took a severe turn for the worse, as for the next six weeks Carlos couldn't buy a hit. From April 8 through May 21, Santana batted just .124. He wasn't making very good contact and he had no luck on his side, as evidenced by his almost unbelievably low .130 BABIP. Around Cleveland (from fans and media members alike) there were calls to bench Santana, or at the very least drop him down to #8 or 9 in the lineup. It was hard times for those of us defending Santana, as the longer his slump lasted, the less anyone wanted to hear that he'd be just fine.
Santana had a big series in Baltimore during Memorial Day weekend, but suffered a concussion after a foul tip hit him in the mask. (He was still catching once or twice a week.) Santana missed 9 games, and when he came back, a change was made. Lonnie Chisenhall was hitting really well, and was reinstated as the team's third baseman. Meanwhile, Nick Swisher was a mess, and so Carlos would become the team's first baseman. He also wouldn't moonlight as the backup catcher anymore. From his return on June 6 until the end of the season, Santana didn't play catcher or third base for even a single inning.
Whether he was already coming out of the slump when he suffered the concussion, or the time away helped him clear his head, or the position change made a big difference, Santana posted huge numbers at the plate following his return. In his first 17 games back Santana hit .371/.480/.710. In the span of a month, his OPS rose almost 200 points, moving him all the way into 3rd place on the team. By the end of the season, he was second on the team, behind only MVP finalist Michael Brantley.
His wRC+ of 131 was also second on the team, and 13th in the American League. He led the team in home runs (for the third time in four years), and led all of baseball in walks (113) and walk rate (17.1%). Each of those total was the best by any player in the last three years, in fact.
Meanwhile, Santana played a very solid first base. He doesn't appear to be headed toward any Fielding Bible Awards or Gold Gloves, but I thought he looked pretty good there. Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs both had his first base as a bit below average, Baseball Prospectus had it as a bit above average. I'd be happy with average defense and Santana's offense.
Santana's batting average was an ugly .231, and there's a certain segment of baseball fandom (and media) that just can't get past that. Santana is still a very good offensive performer though (it was the best season ever by an Indians hitter with an average below .250), because of his elite walk rate and very good power (27 home runs is a lot these days).
2014 grade: B+
Santana's overall offensive numbers were almost identical in each of the last two years. Still very much in his prime, it's reasonable to expect very similar numbers again next season. Without the offseason distraction of trying to learn a position he'd barely played before, and without the hassle of being bounced around from position to position, he might even put up better numbers. He's one of the best batters in baseball, and we should be glad to have him on the Tribe.