Carlos Santana Remains a Pivotal Cog in 2014
- DOB: 4/8/1986
- Bats/Throws: B/R
- Height/Weight: 5’11″/210 lbs
- Position: C/1B/3B/DH
- Contract: 2014-2017, $17.75 million, 2018 option ($12 million or $1.2 million buyout)
2013 Year in Review
Calors Santana was healthy in 2013, which allowed him to produce some impressive offensive numbers, especially for a catcher; however, from August 1 through the end of the season, Santana only played catcher in 16 of the club’s final 54 games at catcher, allowing Yan Gomes to take over full-time catching duties, which appears to be the norm for the 2014 season, as well. This may not be a bad thing.
In 2013, Santana hit .249/.370/.451 over 335 plate appearances when catching, and .288/.377/.458 over 305 plate appearances as a designated hitter or first baseman. While the on-base percentage and slugging percentage increases are dramatic, it does provide a positive example of how saving Santana’s knees could provide a boost in production.
Santana posted a 3.6 WAR (FanGraphs) in 2013, which was actually lower than Gomes 3.7 (largely due to Gomes’ defensive value), but Santana was tied for 3rd among catchers in home runs (20), 4th in RBI (74), 2nd in wRC+ (135), and 2nd in wOBA (.364). While he wasn’t a great defensive option when compared to Gomes, Santana still showed enough athleticism defensively to post an 8.65 Range Factor at catcher (2nd in the American League). His .832 OPS was the highest of his career, outside of his shortened 2010 audition, not a surprise considering that 2013 was his age-27 season.
Looking Ahead to 2014
There have been rumors all winter in regards to a possible third base transition for Carlos Santana, allowing Yan Gomes to maintain the full-time catching duties, while keeping Santana’s bat in the everyday lineup. Indians’ manager Terry Francona did a nice job of rotating Santana between catcher (83 games), first base (28 games), and DH (47 games) in 2013, but with the offensive limitations of Lonnie Chisenhall against left-handed pitching (.195/.225/.387 in 129 plate appearances), it seems reasonable to attempt to find an appropriate platoon partner at the hot corner. It may seem far-fetched to assume that Santana can handle third base, but he did have experience at third base when he was in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ organization.
The Tribe went 32-22 over the final 54 games of the season, which would lead one to wonder how a full season of Santana away from the catching position could impact the success of the club. A 162-game schedule of a fresh legged, offensive-minded former catcher could allow for a breakout similar to the former No.41 for the Indians, Victor Martinez, who had a studly .301/.374/.501 line in his age-28, posting a career-high 114 RBI in the 2007 playoff season. While the batting average would be impressive from Santana, remember that he had a .288 batting average away from catcher in 2013, while his career .281 BABIP is below the league average, which ranges from .297 to .302, depending on who you ask.
(Projections courtesy of FanGraphs (Steamer/Oliver) and Baseball Prospectus (PECOTA))
What You Should Expect
Carlos Santana could have become the top offensive catcher in baseball if he had stayed at catcher full-time. With the super-utility role that he could be filling at catcher, first base, third base, and designated hitter, he’ll remain a fantastic asset for the Indians. Regardless of where he plays, the most important part is that Santana is in the lineup every day. Santana is a rare blend of offensive skills, possessing 30 home run power and a patient approach that allows him to settle nicely into the middle of any lineup.
With that being said, Santana hasn’t reached the high expectations that he created for himself after he hit 27 home runs in his first full season (2011). After combining for 38 home runs over the last two seasons with continuity in his plate discipline and improved luck in his BABIP, Santana will likely continue to improve his offensive numbers across the board. The batting average has climbed each of the last two seasons from his “breakout” 2011, and with Santana’s impressive numbers when not catching, the likely scenario of Santana playing just one to two games per week (maximum) behind the plate will keep the slugger fresher and ready for a real breakout.
With a healthy Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, and a season of not being mediocre from a contract-year Asdrubal Cabrera, Carlos Santana will take huge steps offensively in 2014, becoming an MVP candidate for a possible AL Central contender, while making fantasy baseball fans wonder why they reached for Buster Posey in the early rounds of their draft. Santana will become a star in 2014, at least to those who didn’t feel like he was already.