The Milwaukee Brewers injected some life into the offseason this week. First they signed Lorenzo Cain to a five-year, $80 million deal, then they freed Christian Yelich from the Miami Marlins for a package of prospects. With their outfield set for the next five years but plenty of holes left to fill if they really want to compete, they might not be done making deals. That’s where the Cleveland Indians come in.
With the addition of Yelich of Cain, the Brewers have six outfielders vying for playoff time: Ryan Braun, Keon Broxton, Domingo Santana, Brett Philips, and of course the newcomers. Braun probably isn’t going anywhere (and if he is it won’t be to the Indians), but the 25-year-old Domingo Santana, who had a breakout season in 2017, would be a perfect fit for the Indians.
Before getting into player specifics, it must be said that the Indians are Brewers just make sense as trade partners. The Brewers have a stacked outfield, while the outfield is one of the few places the Indians could really use an upgrade. Meanwhile, the Brewers could add to their pitching staff, and they have a gaping whole at second base. Jonathan Villar spent the most time at the position in 2017, and he was worth a Michael Maritnez-esque -0.5 fWAR in his 122 games. If the Indians are interested in anything the Brewers could be selling, Danny Salazar and Jason Kipnis are the obvious starting points, and that could shift to any number of pitchers the Indians have on the cusp of the majors and Erik Gonzalez as a potential second base wizard, depending on how much the Brewers want back, and who exactly the Indians want to target.
While it’s based on not much more than a broad suggestion by Jon Morosi on Twitter, Domingo Santana’s name has emerged as the outfielder that would make the most sense in Cleveland. He’s a right-handed bat — which the Indians sorely lack in their Carlos Santana-less lineup — and he can technically stand in the outfield, though his defensive numbers are nothing impressive.
Santana’s biggest asset so far in his major-league career has been his ability to hit the ball all over the field. He’s pulled the ball 35.7 percent of the time, hit it back up the middle 35.2 percent of the time, and hit it opposite field 29.1 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs — almost a perfect split among the three possibilities. His spray chart confirms just as much, with a nice rainbow blast of colors all over the field; maybe a slight tendency to pull ground balls.
This impressive level of control has lead to him always having a high BABIP (.354 over his career), but it didn’t translate into true offensive dominance until last season when power entered the equation. Santana’s slugging percentage jumped 0.58 points in 2017, his first full season, and he hit a career-high 30 home runs. Nothing drastic seems to have changed in his approach, and he was remarkably consistent against lefties (130 wRC+) and righties (125 wRC+). The dude can just mash.
If there’s one drawback to Santana’s game, it’s his strikeout tendency and it carries all the way back to his early days in the minors, when he was striking out 31.7 percent of the time in rookie ball, to his impressive 2017 season, when he struck out 29.3 percent of the time. That shouldn’t deter the Indians from going after him, though, and they did just sign a guy (Yonder Alonso) whose strikeout rate skyrocketed in 2017 so maybe they just wouldn’t care.
Because this is an article about the Indians, here’s your obligatory money paragraph. Santana is under team control through 2018 and arbitration eligible through 2021 before hitting the free agent market in 2022 as a 30-year-old. By acquiring him now, the Indians would have him for the majority of his prime years without dealing with the growing pains or the shadowy place of the wrong side of 30. There is very little downside outside of the cost of acquisition.
Santana won’t come cheap — he’ll probably cost both Danny Salazar and Jason Kipnis or something equivalent — but as far as a quick fix to the outfield/part-time designated hitter, the Indians won’t find a much better solution this offseason without shelling out for J.D. Martinez.