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Swinging for the Fences: Santana at third and roster versatility

Santana playing third could help Tribe in more ways than one

Swinging for the Fences: Santana at third and roster versatility
January 21, 2014
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This offseason's Winter Ball campaign has been an interesting and exciting one for Tribe fans for two reasons: 1) Jesus Aguilar ('nuff said!) and 2) Carlos Santana has traded the catcher's mitt for a third baseman's glove.

So far this offseason, the former Indians starting catcher has appeared in 21 games at third base for Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Winter League during the regular season and now into the playoffs. In that time, he has racked up 30 assists and 11 putouts, but has also committed seven errors and allowed eight infield hits, which adds up to an .854 fielding percentage.

Obviously he won't be getting any Gold Gloves with those type of numbers, but they have been good enough for the Indians to continue the experiment throughout the remainder of the winter league campaign and potentially into spring training and possibly the regular season.

Santana certainly hasn't shown any signs of discouragement, though, as he expressed in an interview with ESPN Deportes late last week.

"Right now I see myself getting ready to play third base, no other position. Such are the plans of the team right now," Santana said. "When Cleveland told me they wanted me to play third base, I took one month to think before accepting. I've played At first base, but did not feel really comfortable there."

Audo Vicente, manager of the Escogido team, has spoken very highly of Santana's progress at third base thus far.

"Really, the progress we've seen in Carlos, especially in the last two weeks is impressive," he said. "I believe that if he keeps this progress up, in two or three years, he will be one of the best third basemen in Major League Baseball."

High praise, indeed, but realistic? Probably not at the moment.

Regardless, it's still positive feedback for the Indians as they continue to mull over their roster shuffle with Brazilian rookie sensation Yan Gomes projected to man the backstop on an everyday basis for the Tribe in 2014.

So, obviously Santana at third at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario in 2014 is still a long shot, but for the sake of speculation, let's say he ends up in a platoon with Lonnie Chisenhall at third.

What does it mean for the team?

Well, for one thing, it definitely eases a pretty hefty log-jam at first base and DH, the two positions Santana was originally expected to fill with Gomes assuming the catching duties. Nick SwisherJason Giambi and newly-addedDavid Cooper are currently the main first base and/or DH options for the Tribe.

I've been saying since last offseason after Travis Hafner left Cleveland that the Indians should no longer limit themselves to a primary DH. The opportunities with lineup versatility are much more beneficial with no starting player at the position. It allows for other position players to rest without removing them from the lineup and for bench players to get more regular reps in the field.

Swisher will be the starting first baseman, but I'm sure he'll also see time at DH and in right field.

Since David Cooper was signed to a major league contract, I'd imagine he'll have a pretty good chance at making the big league squad at some point, barring any injury or setback. If healthy and productive, he can provide a lot on offense. The only problem is he can only play at first base and DH.

As for Giambi, if he makes the team, and yes I said "if", he will serve once again as a part-time DH for mostly late-inning pinch-hit appearances. Don't get me wrong, I love Papa G and will cherish the great moments he gave us for the rest of my life. Realistically, though, will he be able to be as productive or as clutch as a 43-year-old veteran in a part-time role? I hope so, but I wouldn't automatically assume it to be the case.

Santana at third would also allow a clearer path for Jesus Aguilar to break into the majors, which he has a good chance of doing at some point during the upcoming season if he carries his success from AA and winter ball into Columbus.

The versatility of this Indians roster is probably the biggest strength of the team as they have had the luxury to be able to substitute for injured or struggling players with little or no hassle.

Last season, they virtually had three speedy center fielders in their outfield in Michael BrantleyDrew Stubbs andMichael Bourn. Plus, they had two players capable of playing the corner outfield spots in Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles on the bench. Stubbs is gone now, but David Murphy comes in as a more capable corner outfielder to platoon with Raburn in right field. Also veteran outfielders Jeff Francouer and Nyjer Morgan have been brought in on minor league deals to possibly provide additional depth.

Let's just say Aaron Cunningham won't be penciled in on an Indians lineup card again anytime soon.

Moving back to the infield, the big question with Santana moving to third is what happens to Lonnie Chisenhall?

It's no secret that time is not on the former first round pick's side as he is now three years into his major league career and has yet to find any form of consistency. He did belt a career-high 11 homers and 36 RBI, but that was also due in part to natural progression since he played in 94 games for the Tribe. Also in that time, his batting average and on-base percentage dipped to a career low .225 and .270, respectively.

His struggles against left-handed pitching have been the biggest hinderence to his career as southpaws stymied him once again in 2013 holding him to only four hits in 38 at-bats (.111 BA). The Indians aren't ready to give up on him since they are still somewhat high on his potential, but I would guess they would have him avoid left-handed pitching as much as possible until he finds some consistency...or rather any consistency.

The reason why the Indians are at a precarious position with Chisenhall is that they can't send him down to the minors to fine-tune his skills. Over the last two seasons, he has spent a total of 57 games in AAA and has a batting mark of .352 with 10 home runs and 43 RBI. He has nothing left to learn or prove down there. If he's going to become a successful big leaguer, he'll have to do it at the big league level.

That's where Santana at third could really be of service to Chisenhall.

Being a switch hitter and arguably the team's best offensive threat, Santana can and should be in the lineup everyday. And as the owner of a .299 batting average against left-handers last season, starting him at third base when a southpaw is on the mound certainly seems feasible.

It also could take pressure off Mike Aviles, the Tribe's super-sub utility player, as he wouldn't have to serve as the primary backup third baseman in addition to the backup shortstop and second baseman.

As my colleague Jim Piascik pointed out in his in-depth analysis of Aviles last week, he can play third base, but has not put up good defensive numbers at the hot corner (career -18.2 UZR/150). 

So while Aviles can play numerous positions on the field, he shouldn't be the main go-to guy for all of them. He could prove to be more valuable if he's not spread too thin.

We can argue Santana's abilities as a third baseman and the likelihood of him playing there on a regular basis. That's another discussion. But as far as how the rest of the players would benefit from him changing positions, the opportunities with additional roster versatility are something the team could really take advantage of.

Jake's Takes

Cleveland among top suitors for Scott Baker... The Indians may be looking to add another veteran starter to bolster the depth pf their rotation, so says Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish. Scott Baker is on the road back from Tommy John surgery after missing all of 2012 for recovery. He was picked up by the Cubs last season and started in three games allowing six runs in 15 innings (3.60 ERA). He had previously been with the Twins from 2005-2011 where he had compiled a decent 63-48 record with a 4.14 ERA.

Like Shaun Marcum, Baker is an intriguing option for the rotation as he has had a successful career, but was sidelined due to injury. The right-hander has also expressed how his health has improved, saying he feels "better than he has in three years". Like most minor league deals, it's worth a shot.

MLB owners unanimously approve expanded replay... We all saw it coming, but now comes the realization that it's actually going to happen starting this season. I'm not opposed to instant replay. If you're going to allow home run replay review, you might as well go all the way and review fair/foul, trapped balls and plays on the base paths. The only thing that concerns me is that there's a pretty fine line between expanded replay being beneficial and detrimental to the game. Hopefully Major League Baseball maintains due dilligence in finding out where that line is.

I'm also curious to find out how the challenge system will work. Apparently it will be the same a manager going out to argue a call with an umpire only this time he can request a video review of the play. The issue I have, though is that there is no penalty in place for losing a challenge, as it happens in football. But it would be hard to implement a penalty system in an un-timed game. Managers would only be allowed one challenge per game and are rewarded with another challenge if proven right. With no penalty, could they use their challenge just to disrupt a game?

Bottom line is I like expanded replay, but I don't know if I'm sold on the challenge system yet.

Dodgers sign Clayton Kershaw to 7-year/$215 million contract extension... I've been a vocal opponent of these mega contracts for a while now, but Clayton Kershaw is one of the two exceptions to the rule, the other being Mike Trout, who more than likely will also get a record-breaking contract at some point either from the Angels or another team.

I also like that the deal is for only seven years with an opt-out clause for Keshaw after five years. There's a good chance he could get another big paycheck after his contract expires as he'll only be 33 years old by that point. And while everyone else has said it already, it really couldn't happen to a nicer guy.

Reds interested in Grady Sizemore... Yes, Tribe fans, he's back and hoping to get another chance in the big leagues. The Reds have been in conversation with the former Indians All-Star outfielder to provide additional depth in center field behind rookie Billy Hamilton, who projects to start there come opening day now that Shin-Soo Choohas signed with the Rangers. Sizemore has not seen live game action since 2011 as he has spent time rehabbing from his latest set of injuries and setbacks.

On a minor league deal, I would give Sizemore a shot. If the Indians didn't currently have such a surplus of outfielders already, I would say they should give him a chance. The only problem is with his back and knee issues, I don't know how productive he can be on defense in the outfield, especially in the National League with no DH, but all the same, I wish him the best in his comeback effort.

In conclusion...

The Indians have not made any official decision regarding Carlos Santana playing at third base for the team during the regular season, but considering how far they've taken the experiment with him in winter ball, I wouldn't be surprised to see him get reps at third in spring training.

Should things come to fruition for him at third, it could prove to be beneficial not only for Santana as he searches for a new permanent position, but also for the team as their versatility would only improve with the shift. 

Will we see the start of a new avenue in Santana's career or will Tribe fans be eating their words for mockingMiguel Cabrera's defense at the hot corner?

Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.

User Comments

yourtribe
January 22, 2014 - 7:55 PM EST
Grady, I'm very hurt you will not take me seriously!!! And reading comprehension is not your strong suit.
Hermie13
January 22, 2014 - 9:52 AM EST
Grady

Chris Sale signed his deal before he was even arbitration eligible. Kershaw signed his deal 1 year away from free agency. Two completely different scenarios. Kershaw actually came up and was pitching well at a younger age than Sale was when he made his minor league debut. Sale made his first big league start at the age of 23....Kershaw had 83 career big league starts under his belt by the age of 23. You're comparing apples to oranges with these two.

I do agree the Sale extension was a very good one, but it mostly just bought out arbitration years. Only the 2017 year is a free agent year (plus 2018 option). Remember Sale also signed this deal pre-arbitration.
Grady
January 22, 2014 - 12:26 AM EST
Nice yourtribe. I didn't figure you'd be able to work around any of that. Good to see you throwing your money behind this piece of writing. Lets me know not to take you seriously as a commenter going forward.

Question: If I buy a subscription, which I'm planning on doing, is the writing behind the paywall better than this? I would assume so, but need a confirmation before I fork over my cash, and can you order up multiple years.
yourtribe
January 22, 2014 - 12:12 AM EST
Grady, who advocated another big contract? He just said he could be in line for a bigger deal if he opts out. Which may be true.

What does Sale have to do with Kershaw? The dodgers have money to burn. Being smart really doesn't matter.
Grady
January 21, 2014 - 11:51 PM EST
Norm, normally I'd shred you for being an angry and stubborn poster, but in this case, I have to agree with you.

Jake's Takes? I can't stand actual media takes because they are boneheads, but at least they have sources. Advocating a big contract so that he can get another big contract?

Could that be any more asinine? Look at Chris Sale's deal. Then look at Chris Sale's numbers. Then look at Chris Sale's age.

Now THAT'S a smart contract.

Grady's Take: This is not a smart article
yourtribe
January 21, 2014 - 11:49 PM EST
No reason not to play him at 3d in the spring. What is there to lose? Chiz is not the answer. Looks like the tribe feels the same based on Carlos's comments.

Norm, why so harsh? If its that bad for you stop reading!
Robert
January 21, 2014 - 11:47 PM EST
I will be VERY surprised if Swisher sees any time in RF. 1B and DH, unless some of the OF's get hurt. Santana has always struck me as a lackadaisical fielder, not sure that moving him to the "hot corner" will help that very much.
Norm
January 21, 2014 - 9:59 PM EST
This piece, like much of this writer's work, did nothing for me.

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