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IBI Power Poll: How much time will Santana see at third?

Will the Carlos Santana Shift be successful?

IBI Power Poll: How much time will Santana see at third?
January 26, 2014
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In this week’s power poll, we are going to take a closer look at Carlos Santana, arguably the Cleveland Indians’ best offensive player, and potentially the next Tribe third baseman.

This offseason, the Tribe front office has failed to make much of a splash in acquiring any “big-name” free agents. In this signing vacuum, the big hot stove news on the North Coast has been the “Carlos Santana” experiment, which I talked about in depth in last week’s Sunday Drive over at Cleveland Sports Insiders.

The move has become a Keystone Cops-esque he-said, she-said exchange of information through the media that has turned a potential innocent shift of position from catcher-to-third base for Santana something of a controversial firestorm.

Santana effectively lost his starting catching job full-time last September, when Yan Gomes took over a roll that he had slowly-but-surely been taking away all season long. After the season, manager Tito Francona essentially announced that Yan Gomes was the starting catcher for the Indians going forward. This didn’t stir many waves, as there had been speculation that Santana would ultimately move over to first base for two seasons. The Indians hadNick Swisher there, but it seemed logistical that Santana and Swisher would share first base duties as well as the DH-role, with Swisher occasionally playing right field.

Then the Indians’ signed right fielder David Murphy. At the time, the Indians had an outfield full, with Murphy,Michael BournMichael BrantleyDrew Stubbs and Ryan Raburn all vying for playing time. Once Stubbs was dealt, that didn’t really open things up though, with Murphy and Raburn forming some sort of platoon in right, Bourn locking down center, and Brantley in left.

In other words, Nick Swisher’s time in the outfield appears to be functionally over, even though he could likely see spot time there depending on injuries or situations. While the possibility remained in which Swisher would be the full-time first baseman, with Carlos Santana manning the DH-role fulltime, it seemed hard to believe that an athletic 27-year-old would be relegated to the DH-role.

The first “unofficial” volley in the Santana-shift perhaps didn’t even involve the Tribe slugger, but instead involved another Indians’ prospect that made a similar move a week-or-two prior. Jesus Aguilar, a top-twenty Indians’ prospect who played the entire season at Akron in the 1B/DH role spent a couple of games playing third. For those paying attention (mainly the readers here at IBI, as well as the other major Indians’ sites), this produced a wave of discussion about the potential of the hot-hitting first baseman to make the big league club earlier than expected by either platooning with Lonnie Chisenhall, or taking over the position altogether.

The “experiment” proved to be nothing more than a short-term offering and not some bigger “subversive” plan by the Indians to move Aguilar. But the thought of an effective, power-hitting, run producer moving to hot corner was a firmly planted thought by many when the Santana news began to circulate in December.

In the weeks leading up to Christmas, reports came out that Santana was taking ground balls at third base in the Dominican, with the help of Indians’ infield coach Mike Sarbaugh and scout Trey Hendricks. Indians’ General Manager Chris Antonetti said that “Carlos took it upon himself to say, ‘Hey, I’ll not only catch, but if I can be serviceable at third base, it gives us another option.’” Antonetti made it abundantly clear that it was Santana’s decision to try a shift in position, and that the Indians were intrigued by the possibility.

Santana has been at third base ever since, and while he has struggled here-and-there throughout the winter months, the growing feeling both by looking at his stats, and listening to what’s being reported in the media (some respected, some not-so-much) is that the “Santana-shift-experiment” has been fairly successful in the short sample size of the Dominican Winter League.

It looked like Santana could be the Indians’ main substitute behind-the-plate, and platoon at times with Lonnie Chisenhall at third base. It seemed simple enough in thought…

…until an article came out at ESPN Deportes that seemed to contradict some of what had been said by Antonetti, as well as the amount of time ultimately spent at third by Santana. In the report, Santana said that he was approached by the Indians to play third base, and he alluded to the fact that the intention was for him to play there full-time, not as a platoon-option.

Since then, there has been a nearly laughable amount of time spent on the “article,” as though media-reports immediately set the truth in stone. You know, when you get a Spanish-written article with no real context and without having EVER heard from Terry Francona on the matter, it’s clear that the Indians were setting up Santana and Chisenhall for a massive battle for third, or a part of third, or a trade, or…well…you know the rest.

Much was made about the communication between management and the players involved, without actually having one shred of fact in context from anyone, and without hearing from the one guy that ultimately makes the decision…Francona.

Finally, Francona seemed to answer all those questions with some fairly common sense and easy-to-predict answers this past week. Francona admitted that he shouldn’t read much because it gets him “confused.” He also confirmed that Santana offered to go play third in the Dominican, that the front office and on-the-field management “thought it was terrific,” and that he clearly wasn’t going to be making any decisions this week on the matter.

“…if he can handle playing third—some, a lot, little—we’ll see. That’s all part of Spring Training. If he can handle it, it gives us another option with our middle-of-the-order bat.”

Of course, how will the Cleveland Indians’ faithful, as well as the media handle that information?

I’m sure we’ll all be insanely patient.

Today’s Indians Baseball Insider Power Poll Question is: How much will Carlos Santana play third base in 2014?

Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as  the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at jpete@indiansprospectinsider.com.

User Comments

Hermie13
January 27, 2014 - 2:12 PM EST
I went 40 games or less. Just think it's too optimistic to expect more at this point. Maybe he wows in spring trainign at the hot corner or Chiz just really struggles, but as things stand now Santana will need to also play about 40 games behind the plate as we have no real backup catcher option other than him. Expecting him to play 40 games at catcher (or more), more than 40 games at 3B, plus still some at 1B is just way too aggressive IMO.
Just sayin'
January 27, 2014 - 1:10 AM EST
"...took over a roll..." A roll? "...it seemed logistical..." You mean logical?

I had to stop reading there. I don't know how bad it got after that, but it's kind of hard to take anything you write seriously,
LeaguePark
January 26, 2014 - 9:33 PM EST
Shy, as to your comment on Santana, " he could possibly develop into a fairly slick-fielding above average range guy."

NO WAY !!!! You must be joking!
Robert
January 26, 2014 - 8:57 PM EST
Thanks Jim for pulling the information together for us.

Hard to see Santana getting more than 40 games at 3B. Also, even if Gomes hits only .250, he still provides a lot of value defensively. I'm not so worried about it, even if there is a bit of a sophomore jinx. I am 'worried' (to the extent that you can do that about a baseball player!) that Chisenhall is about to crap out like (as shy notes) so many of our 1st round picks...here's hoping he comes ready to play.
shy
January 26, 2014 - 5:43 PM EST
Here's the deal. Santana is not going to be any good at third base unless he gets reps- he has to play everyday. If he does, he could possibly develop into a fairly slick-fielding above average range guy. If he doesn't get the reps, he's a liablility out there. I think Lonnie has the tools and the athleticism to have a breakout year- of course I thought that last year. In fairness, I think the injury derailed his chances, but I would also predict that if he doesn't have a good spring and a solid April and May he's gone the road of Matt Laporta. I hear a lot of talk about how nobody wants to sign Ubaldo and other free agents mainly because they don't want to give up a draft pick. Cleveland could have given up 9 of their last 10 top draft picks and it wouldn't amount to a hill of beans, cause they all stank. If their was a way to monetize their picks in rounds 1-10 and just start at 11, they'd be better off.
Seth
January 26, 2014 - 4:58 PM EST
It will be interesting to see what would happen to the bench if Santana ends up being a platoon-mate with Chisenhall, which is looking more like a legitimate possibility. Against RHP, the lineup would be set and Santana would be, but against LHP, if Santana's starting at 3B, then that just created a hole at DH and doesn't seem to gain you much. Ideally they'd have another right-hander with a decent bat who can DH and play 1B to push Swisher to the outfield to give one of the lefty outfielders a day off. Might that open up a spot for Aguilar out of spring training, since he's the only guy currently in the organization who fits that profile?

have never been too high on him, but who knows, maybe with the power he showed in the winter league he's turned a corner. I would imagine even if he doesn't perform particularly well he'd do more damage with the bat than Aviles. I suppose the other option would be to DH Asdrubal when Santana plays third, since Aviles kind of sucks at third but plays a decent shortstop. Having it as an option is only a positive, but unless they want to give Aguilar a shot, it would seem unlikely they'd use Santana much at third until there's an injury or an acquisition of right-handed DH type. While I can't think of anyone right now who'd be an option (Corey Hart would've been an interesting add in this case), a right-handed platoon DH would seem like a relatively cheap upgrade for the future.
anonymous
January 26, 2014 - 3:35 PM EST
I think he will catch more games than expected and definitely catch more games than play third base . Sophomore jinxes anyone?
yourtribe
January 26, 2014 - 3:32 PM EST
michael, if you are talking about me, where did I say "legitimate asset"?? Your words, not mine.

I just said trade him. Did not say I expected to get anything of value in return, did I???

My comments on lonnie tell you what I think of him. not much.
Michael
January 26, 2014 - 3:18 PM EST
I love when people talk about Lonnie as any sort of legitimate trade asset. Terrible plate discipline, hasn't flashed plus power, hasn't shown the hit tool people expected. A project acquisition rarely pulls in much more than another project.
LeaguePark
January 26, 2014 - 2:59 PM EST
Hopefully, very little. You know how many 5 hole specials he has as a catcher. He will be a total butcher at third base.
Lenny54
January 26, 2014 - 2:51 PM EST
Chisenhall does hit right handers pretty well. If it turns out that Santana is okay defensively at 3rd, having him hit against lefties makes sense.

If Chisenhall can be productive against righties it might build up his confidence and help him continue to develop as a MLB 3rd baseman.
yourtribe
January 26, 2014 - 2:18 PM EST
This is a no brainer to me. If Carlos is just avg. at 3d defensively, he is your every day 3d baseman. We have had no production from 3d for too long now.

I would trade Lonnie. I know he's young, but has shown very little in the last three years to make me believe he's anything but mediocre.

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