While the Indians have transformed themselves into both a Cactus League and YouTube juggernaut, one player has been noticeably absent from the party: the Tribe’s highly touted young catcher, Carlos Santana. However, his absence isn’t going to put him Terry Francona‘s doghouse. Santana is excused from the monotonous day in and day out routine of Spring Training in order to represent his homeland in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
You could argue that Santana being away from the team for a prolonged period of time would do more harm than good. He’s missing out on valuable time to acclimate himself with a new manager and coaching staff, new teammates, and, probably most importantly, a stable full of new pitchers with whom he lacks chemistry as battery mates. I’m willing to buy into that argument to some extent. As someone with a great deal of responsibility as the everyday starting catcher, Santana doesn’t have the luxury of developing chemistry on the fly when the games count. But, such is life and that is the situation that the Tribe and Santana have been dealt.
I’m also not in the business of telling someone that they can’t represent their country.
I think you can also make an equally compelling argument that participating in the WBC could make Carlos Santana a better player. I’m not just talking about in 2013 either. Participating in this year’s WBC could help Santana find the mojo that he appeared to lose over the past two seasons and help him reestablish himself as the dominant force we all thought he would be following his call up in 2010.
Looking at his statistics thus far—and there’s a huge small sample size caveat here—you might think my logic here is crazy. The same glaring issue from the previous two seasons remains, that being an absolutely abysmal batting average of .182. But as we all know, batting average is not the most valuable metric for determining a players offensive value. On-base percentage is much more important and once again, Santana’s patience at the plate is shining bright. In the four games played he’s drawn six walks, tied for second-most in the tournament, and as a result has an OBP of .471. If he were to keep that up for the Indians, the batting average would eventually come around so there’s little reason to worry.
However, from watching the games the Dominican Republic has played, I can’t help but feel that Carlos Santana is gaining more from the camaraderie with his fellow countrymen than from his actual reps on the field. He’s having fun and legitimately enjoying himself and the game. Anyone who has watched him slump over the past two seasons and squeeze every bit of sawdust out of the handle of his bat could see that Santana just wasn’t having fun. This environment, surrounded by players like Robinson Cano, Jose Reyes, and Fernando Rodney, might just be what Carlos Santana needs to finally relax and let the game come to him rather than trying to make something happen with every at bat.
Santana might also benefit from the lessons in leadership he is gaining by being a part of the Dominican National team. As a Cleveland Indian, he was thrown to the wolves and forced to be a leader in the heart of the order too soon and didn’t respond well. With this Dominican team, he’s a role player looking to complement more established superstars. Santana can see true leadership first hand from Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, and Miguel Tejada—all players who have played deep into October. How could that possibly be a bad thing? It can’t.
Even though the new leadership for the 2013 Indians will most obviously come from Nick Swisher, the tactics Carlos Santana is learning from his time playing with the Domincan Republic in the WBC can only help. It might be as simple as a pregame routine, a goofy handshake, or even a post game celebration, but every little bit helps. If it means keeping Santana and his teammates loose then bring it on. It’s those types of quirky antics this team has been lacking since its magical run back in 2007.
Just look at teams to go on deep October runs the past few seasons—they all had things they rallied around. The Indians had the rally pie. The Rangers were all about moose antlers. In 2010 the Giants were all about the beards and last season they rallied around a stange pregame ritual that involved making it rain with sunflower seeds. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the Rally Monkey. The point is, most good teams find something to unite them.
So when Santana finally rejoins the Indians whenever the Dominicans end their WBC run, I’ll be interested to see which version returns. Will we keep seeing the player who continually out thinks himself at the plate, or will we see the player who is relaxed and grinning from ear to ear? With the aid of the clubhouse environment Swisher has helped establish and the things he is learning by playing in the WBC, I hope it’s the latter. If that’s the case, Carlos Santana may be headed for the breakout season we’ve been waiting for from him for so long.