It’s been a hot minute since Carlos Santana played for the Indians, yet it seems like he never left.
From a catcher, to a third baseman (lol), to a first baseman, to a designated hitter, back to a first baseman again, Santana has been all around the Indians, but he’s been an Indian through and through. Until he wasn’t.
The patient slugger took a year off from the Tribe when the Philadelphia Phillies outbid his former team last offseason. There were reports that the Indians tried pretty hard to bring back their most prolific home run hitter of the last decade, but he eventually signed with Philadelphia on a three-year, $60 million deal. Too rich for the Indians’ blood, clearly, with Edwin Encarnacion and Yan Gomes already on the payroll, sucking up that sweet, sweet, Lando money. Besides, Yonder Alonso was, like, right there. You can’t pass that up.
Well that problem apparently fixed itself, and now Carlos is back. To be more specific, the Indians dumped Yan Gomes’ contract off on the Washington Nationals, sent Yonder Alonso to the White Sox, and grabbed Santana from the Mariners in exchange for Edwin Encarnacion and also somehow wound up with Jake Bauers in the process. It was a wacky weekend; if you want more details on how it went down I highley recommend this first-hand account from The Athletic. Either way, he’s back, and I’m here to remind you of one very important thing: He is awesome.
For those of you on the unjust side of calling Santana a bad clutch hitter, or too patient at the plate, or not a fan of high socks, consider this post a reminder of why you are wrong. For everyone else, consider it a brief refresher course on one of my — and hopefully your — personal favorite Indians players ever.
Carlos Santana smacks dingers
Whacking big bad bomberoonies isn’t the biggest tool in Carlos Santana’s belt, but it’s the most flashy. Since coming into the league in 2010, Santana has 198 home runs (174 with the Indians), and his slugging percentage has dropped below .400 just once. Other than that, it’s been mostly smooth sailing for Santana, though he has shown signs of a power decline over the last two seasons.
Across the board, Santana had one of his worst seasons ever with the Phillies last year. He slashed .229/.352/.414 for a wRC+ of 109 — the second-lowest of his career. He still hit 24 home runs, though, and he drew walks 16.2 percent of the time (more on that in a minute) and struck out a career-low 13.7 percent. Probably not enough production for hungry Phillies fans who wanted $15 million worth of production out of him, but you could do far worse in a guy who also gets on base a ton. For better or worse, he’s likely to be the same hitter in 2019.
Looking past the home runs and in-play results, when bat met ball, Santana looked like almost an identical hitter with the Phillies as he did in his final year with the Indians. There was virtually no difference in his exit velocity (88.3 percent in 2017, 89.2 percent in 2018), his hard-hit percentage (38.2 percent in 2017, 39.2 percent in 2018), and he barreled the ball just two fewer times in 2018 (34) than he did in 2017 (36).
If you were a fan of 2017 Carlos Santana’s power production with the Indians, you’ll probably like him in 2019. Even the notoriously conservative Steamer projections have him bouncing back to being closer to his 130 wRC+, 2016 season, with a projected 20 home runs and .251/.336/.453 slash line.
The Indians aren’t in the same black void of power they were for most of Santana’s Cleveland career — Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor both eclipsed 38 home runs last season — but another 20-home-run hitter certainly won’t hurt.
Carlos Santana loves Cleveland
It may not have a lot to do with how he performs (or does it?), but Santana’s love of Cleveland is crucial to understanding his level of awesome.
Two years after catching that ball to end the ALCS and send his team to the World Series, Santana prepared to leave the only city he had ever played professional baseball in. When he left, he wrote Cleveland fans an extremely heartfelt message that went beyond the typical boilerplate “later, thanks for everything” players are essentially required to send when they leave a city.
This process has been one of the most difficult I have had to experience. It’s not easy not knowing what the future holds. I cried once it sunk in that I would no longer be suiting up for and living in the City of Cleveland.
All I have known is Cleveland. I loved my time in Cleveland. I became a big leaguer in Cleveland. I became a man, a husband, and a father. I bought and maintained my first home in Cleveland. We went from losing to winning. I built friendships that I will have for the rest of my life. I fell in love with Cleveland. Thank you for loving me back. Words cannot describe how much I will miss you Cleveland. Believe me, I will miss you all.
I may be starting new roots in Philly but I will always leave a piece of my heart in Cleveland. I tried to give it my all during these years and I hope you will remember me for being a good Clevelander and teammate. I wish the organization the absolute best. To the Dolans, Chris Antonetti, Mike Chernoff, Tito Francona and his staff, Tony Amato and his staff, trainers, video people, and the entire Cleveland Indians Family, thank you for taking care of me and my family for all of these years. You meant more to me than you will ever know.
I’m off to Philadelphia to help them build a winner. I’m ready for the challenge. I look forward to the work that lays ahead. Until we see each other again … be great!
This isn’t a player merely leaving a city. This is your favorite cool uncle explaining to you that his job is making him move far away but he promises to still send you LEGO sets for Christmas and wants you to stay off drugs and do good in school. Things may have happened that caused you two to separate, but he wants you to know he always did his dang best.
It’s a man that loved his city and only wanted them to love him back. A man that put everything he had into playing for a team and wanted to do everything he could to stay with them, but ultimately went with what best for him and his family off the field. Total respect to that, and endless adoration for how much he seems to love that big beautiful city.
He also wrote a love letter to Cleveland prior to the start of the 2017 season, mere months after he and the rest of the city had their hearts ripped out.
That’s why the Cleveland organization and the city means the world to me, and I thank God they gave me the opportunity to play in the Major Leagues. They were the ones who opened the doors. Cleveland, for me, has been the best. It’s a place where people are always pushing forward and working hard, just like in the Dominican Republic, where I am from. We players work hard and give the maximum effort, because that’s what the city deserves and that’s how the people here work, too. I come from the bottom, a humble background, and it was a difficult childhood, so I understand. We are all hungry to work hard, to take care of our families and play every day. That’s who we are.
Of course I would have been thrilled if the Indians won the World Series last year, but I admit it would have felt a little weird winning it without Santana.
Carlos Santana is patient
Back to the on field stuff, this is what get Carlos Santana the $60 million contracts, and — unfairly — a lot of hate. The guy doesn’t just swing at any old pitch.
Since 2011 — Santana’s first full year in the majors — only Jose Bautista, Aaron Judge, and Joey Votto have higher walk rates than Santana’s 15.2 percent, and only Votto has more walks than Santana’s 799. It’s not even that he just watches every pitch go by — there was a time when he was consistently in the top-5 of pitches per plate appearances every year, but lately it’s all been purely good selection.
Last season, for example, Santana swung at just 24.2 percent of pitches outside the zone, the 20th lowest in the majors. Of those pitches he swung at, he made contact 74.2 percent of the time — 24th in the majors. Back in 2017 with the Indians, he swung at 21.4 percent of pitches outside of the zone (9th lowest in baseball). It led to the Indians using Santana — a large, slow first baseman slash designated hitter — as their lead-off and number two hitter throughout his final two years of his time in Cleveland, and it worked brilliantly. With his 14.4 percent and 13.2 percent walk rates in 2016 and 2017, respectively — combined with the tremendous hitting of Lindor, Ramirez, Michael Breantley, and others behind him — he crossed the plate 179 times over a two-year span.
Carlos Santana has great socks
Everybody expects the smaller, scrappier players to go with the stirrup look. It makes you look fast, and that’s 90 percent of being fast as far as I am concerned. But Carlos Santana is not fast. I mean, he’s not a slouch, but he’s in the lower third in terms of sprint speed — he’s no blur around the bases. Just this big dude wearing stirrups is the absolute best, and it needs to happen more.
Look at this
Work it Carlos
Is it hot in here?
S P E E D
Carlos Santana is not a musician
We have a choice to make here, for good or for evil.
Do we go back to pretending like we didn’t already overuse every “haha Carlos Santana is also a musician” joke? The Phillies, of course, were able to use it because their fans were new to the world of baseball Santana and the unlikely intersection of sport and fedora-wearing musicians. But... do we? We used them all by like 2012 and they got stale, but maybe now is the time to bring them back. Or do we just call it quits forever, until Carlos inevitably plays for another team? This isn’t a decision to take lightly, and I promise it still makes Carlos Santana awesome.