In comments made before Friday night's series opener in Minnesota (and passed along by Paul Hoynes), Indians manager Terry Francona said Carlos Santana needs to work harder if he wants to play first base more often again.
"I don't think he has the ability to just go out and play it. He's got to work at it. When he works at it, he's pretty good."
Friday night marks the fifth game in a row Santana has been at DH, and the eighth time in the team's last eleven games; this comes after he was the team's DH only three times before August.
Hoynes says it's clear Santana is not happy about the development, which perhaps should not be a surprise, given that when he was pushed off catching duty by the emergence of Yan Gomes, he pushed hard to play a different position, rather than being moved into the DH role.
"You want your guys to be happy, but you want to put the best team on the field. I've tried to talk to him about that. Mike Sarbaugh has... I think sometimes (the conversations) have been more productive than others. Sometimes I'm not sure he understands or agrees..."
To my eyes, Santana made really good progress at first base in 2014, getting a lot better as the year went on, but he wasn't looked quite the same this season. Francona would know if Santana is putting in the same amount of time before games into his defense, and if he says Santana hasn't worked as hard this year, I think we have to sort of take him at his word on that. This has been by far the worst season of Santana's career as a hitter, which raises two separate ideas in my mind:
The first thing is that I wonder whether his offensive struggles and defensive decline are related. There's no way to know (unless Santana goes on record about it), but it seems possible that in an effort to get his offensive numbers up to their usual standard, he has let his defensive work slide. It's also possible that's not the case at all.
The second thing is that I think Santana should be applauded for the time he put in two off-seasons ago to become a third baseman. While that experiment didn't work out, Carlos was certainly willing to put in a lot of effort and work at that point, and as the team's best hitter at that time, it made some sense to reward that effort by keeping him on the field if that's what he wanted, so long as there wasn't a much better defensive option. Things are a little different when you aren't hitting or (apparently) putting in the same effort. It's possible Hoynes is overstating Santana's unhappiness, but if Carlos is pouting, that's not a good look, given the circumstances.
I have been among the very biggest Carlos Santana supporters/defenders in the world, but this is potentially a different beast. Francona's comments strike me as somewhat more pointed than what managers usually say about veteran players, and I'll be very interested to hear what (if anything) both Santana and Francona have to say in the next day or two, and to see how Carlos' usage and production look over the final month and a half of the season.