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What if Carlos Santana leaves?

The prospect is real. What happens then?

MLB: ALDS-Cleveland Indians at New York Yankees Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The older you get, the harder it is to root for just one team. Perhaps this is because I live an entirely atomized, unbound life that sees me move home and state once every 18 months or so, but with no geographical grip on me, maintaining fandom can be hard. Even more so because the players that are so awesome that make the team fun to root for, to revel in their success, all ultimately leave. That’s what we face this winter with Carlos Santana. For nearly a decade, Santana has flourished into a uniquely talented offensive threat for the Indians, and done whatever the team asked of him, whether bat leadoff, play third for some silly reason, take to the outfield or swap first base with some lovable oaf or other. But now he might leave because he’s a free agent and he deserves good money and a bright future, and the Indians can’t provide at least one of those things. What happens then?

For starters, Santana will get that generational wealth that he so deserves. He’s already made $31 million in his career so far; it’s not like he’s hard up. Especially since half his summer is in Cleveland. Great cost of living discount there. He’s likely to get something resembling the Encarnacion deal, three years with an option for a fourth totaling about $80 million, with the offensive lag he has behind Edwin offset by what’s become an excellent glove at first. It’s only first, but it’s still a negotiating point for his agent.

It’s not a lot of money, in the scheme of baseball as a whole, but the Indians do already have about $32 million tied up in first base and the designated hitter this year, assuming Santana doesn’t come back and Brantley moves there to help with his return from surgery. The Indians did well financially in 2017 judging from the packed houses in the second half, but they’re not the Dodgers. Adding another long-term contract to a guy on the wrong side of 30 when they still need to throw a few Brinks trucks at Francisco Lindor is poor planning. Of course they’ll probably make the playoffs again, and obviously win the World Series and get a boatload of cash from that, but the future does need planning for. A Lindor-y future. This likely means the Red Sox get a shiny new player because they need someone who isn’t an offensive hole like Mitch Moreland. This could be fun for Santana. Putting players’ spray charts over Fenway is always fun because of its odd dimensions, so let’s look:

Baseball Savant

He’d lose a few because of that weird right field wall and the triangle, but the wall plays into his favor a bit. There are some home runs to find there. The Indians have that Mini-Monster, but the Green one is a bit closer. The only issue I’d find is that Santana is a bit… slow, and playing wall ball for doubles may not work for him. Between that and the depth of the wall past Pesky’s Pole, perhaps Fenway would actually work against him? That would be a bit sad.

The Mariners have cropped up in rumors, which would just mean Santana would stop hitting anything but massive home runs and a ton of flyouts. Or the Marlins, which I support so I can see him play the Nationals. He’d win a championship, then see the team around him dismantled. About the best option for him personally is probably the Red Sox because they have the most money and are likely to win a title sooner rather than later. But that’s gross.

The Indians would also lose their most underrated player, which means they need to find another one. Santana’s skillset was hard to discern casually because it didn’t show up in traditional stats and people shrug at walks. Who’s next, though? It has to be someone young, and can’t be Lindor or Jose Ramirez, since they’re already stars. My thought was Bradley Zimmer. He’s going to frustrate the hell out of people because he’s going to strike out like 175 times a year. And if he hits, say, 25 home runs, that will be nice, but his playing center field will of course constantly draw comparisons to Tris Speaker. Defense is getting more quantifiable with Statcast following every twitch of a fielder’s day, but normal people don’t give that much attention to it. Just as it took a while for people to truly appreciate Santana, that’s what we’ll see with Zimmer. Him or Trevor Bauer I guess, but he seems to be coming around in the eyes of the fanbase. So at least we’ll get to appreciate a new player and get hipstery about it.

Then there’s the second round pick the Indians would get, if the Red Sox sign him anyway. It’s only the second round, but the Indians are very good at player development. In the past, we’ve seen the second round produce Jason Kipnis, Andrelton Simmons, Brad Miller, Josh Bell, and a lot of chaff. It’s not exactly a one-for-one replacement, but it’s something at least. And prospects are fun right? The Indians will have to fire their pant leg blouser though. Santana was the only one keeping him employed. That’s a little sad.

The best thing about Santana potentially leaving? The prospect of YANDY TIME starting in earnest. We got some glimpses this year, and it was bicepsularly delightful. And yet at the same time, frustrating. It can’t be harped on enough - Diaz had an exit velocity to rival that of Giancarlo Stanton, but instead of bonking fans in the noggin with moon shots, he was giving the groundskeeper a lot of work to do repairing divots. If (and it’s a moderately sized if) he can start cranking it in the air, it will be a bit easier to get over Santana. Shoot, maybe Brantley can do the same thing and actually join the Home Run Revolt. He may not hit it like Stanton, but he’s got the same average exit velo as, well, Carlos Santana. Actually, he topped Santana in 2017 by a tenth of a mile per hour. He just hits it into the ground. Something to think about.

Oh, and the other thing to happen if Santana leaves. Sadness. A feeling that a good friend is moving across the country, and you won’t get to see them anymore. Perhaps at a reunion, or at their wedding or yours, but there won’t be time to catch up. It’ll be passing, a quick slap on the back, an old inside joke, and the pair of you move on. Santana was a harbinger of something great in Cleveland, and if he leaves and they finally finish the job, won’t it feel a little hollow that he’s not there to help with the boost? If the Indians can actually afford him, more power to them. He’s great to have around. But if this was the last we saw of Carlos Santana with the Tribe, at least the future isn’t so dark. If only it could have ended a bit sweeter.