The pain of small market fandom is watching your favorite players — in this case Carlos Santana — leave for greener pastures in free agency. It creates the annual winter scramble to find a way to replace that production, which helps people writing and opining on the team. But it creates uncertainty and frustration among the faithful. Santana must be replaced.
The Cleveland Indians need something resembling what Santana posted this year — 3 fWAR 141 second half wRC+, great first base defense — to tack close to what they did a year ago. Some teams do that without blinking an eye. Some teams are the Indians, and are priced out as soon as the off-season begins. They need to do something. It would be cool to get Logan Morrison.
I wanted the Indians to trade for Morrison back prior to the 2016 season when it turned into Mike Napoli instead. In the aggregate they put up similar numbers, Napoli actually out-hitting Morrison with a 113 wRC+ compared to LoMo's 100, but Napoli fell into that black hole in August while Morrison put up a 138 wRC+ after the break. They had near opposite seasons, it's weird. It's hard to not think about what could have been different with an actual bat in the lineup come October, but it's also hard to really quantify the impact Napoli had. Intangibles being what they are, every report out of the team in '16 noted how key Napoli was in helping that team gel. It might have happened regardless, who knows. It’s literally unquantifable.
After Napoli's departure, it was that second half that made me want Morrison for the Indians again this past year. Instead he signed a "prove it" deal with the Tampa Bay Rays and hit like Edwin Encarnacion. With a 133 wRC+, 38 home runs and 3.3 fWAR, Morrison was a brilliant value at $2.5 million for a year. This creates a problem.
See, the Indians could really use Morrison. As said before, he essentially replicated Encarnacion last year and out-hit Santana in most every metric. But he signed a prove-it deal, and he proved it. It wasn't just last year either. From the beginning of July 2016 to the end of this season, a stretch of 673 plate appearances, he put up a 131 wRC+, walked 13 percent of the time and struck out 24.5 percent of the time. He was every bit as good as Santana. Which means he will be more expensive, though it's hard to convince me that he'll be as pricey as Santana. Reports are something in the 10-12 million range, whereas Santana could be slated for $15 million a year or more.
It's not a huge difference, but that could net you a reliever or two. And therein lies the Indians-ness of Morrison. Yes, singing him to a two year deal for $20-24 million puts them over whatever self-imposed limit they have set for themselves. Which doesn’t bother me because they should spend money, but it's a move that makes sense in the "keep Santana" idea by replacing his output while still leaving space for a diamond in the rough signing that replaces Bryan Shaw. It's the same reason Matt Adams has been mentioned as having Tribe potential, but he's more in the 2016 Morrison stage of rebuilding his value. Morrison has some history of not staying able to be on the field — he’s only played a near-full season twice including last year’s 142 games, but part of that was just not being good. He really leaned into the fly ball revolution — 46.2 percent this year against 37.5 for his career — and he had a career year. But without a good track record he doesn’t have too big of legs to stand on. That’s what will get Santana paid more. That and the good defense and theoretical versatility of outfield play. It's just a little frustrating to see a team cresting, at the pinnacle that a rebuild is supposed to be working towards, only to nickle and dime. Yes, $85 million to Encarnacion. But one move isn't going to cut it. The Houson Astros paid out for vets. The check signers aren't off the hook after one splash, and if Morrison would really be viable at two years, $25 million, what more needs to be decided on?
Signing Morrison would probably replace Santana's production at the plate, even if it wouldn't replace him in our hearts. I've never seen Morrison turn 0-2 into 3-2 as well as Santana. I've never seen anyone do that who doesn't also flirt with hitting .300. They probably won't do it because of the aforementioned Adams idea, and the fact they have a shortstop and second baseman that might hit 30 home runs. And that they need a place to put Michael Brantley when he inevitably needs days off from the rigors of left field. And the Kipnis thing, finding him a place to play and all. There's so little room all of a sudden because Francona has a need to play Kip and Brantley. Which is understandable. It’s the downside of the excellence he brings - that making players be comfy and play their best becomes a bit nepotistic at times.
As long as it doesn't stand in the way of, say Yandy Diaz though, I’m fine. But it probably will block Morrison even if signing him does make sense. He'll turn 31 toward the end of next season, just learned how to hit fly balls in large amounts, is strong, and doesn't have platoon splits. It's a good idea, he'd be a good player and allow the team stay somewhat flexible long-term, but we’ll deal with the same narrative all winter — there’s just so little room on the roster. Hopefully this odd issue doesn’t stop too many big moves.