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Tribe Happenings: Seeing is believing for Santana

Tribe Happenings: Seeing is believing for Santana
Can Carlos Santana play third base? His winter ball team certainly thinks so. (Photo: Indians.com)
February 17, 2014
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Believing in Santana at third

Today was the first full squad workout for the Indians. It was also the first official day of camp that Carlos Santana worked out at third base.

Santana will spend the next several weeks of spring training getting in a lot of work at third base as the Indians continue the offseason experiment that began at their complex in the Dominican Republic in late November and then carried over into winter league games in December and January.

Including the playoffs, Santana played in 34 games this offseason for his Leones del Escogido team in the Dominican Winter League. He hit .241 with 5 HR, 13 RBI and .790 OPS, but the bat is not a concern, it is his defense, and the reports out of the Dominican Republic were positive.

When word first came out that the Indians would try Santana out at third base in the offseason, I rolled my eyes as I just did not see it happening because the odds of such a move seemed unrealistic. But after thinking about it and also hearing some of the early reports on his transition to the position, I now actually believe it is not only a position he can at least play occasionally but a position he might actually have a shot to be a regular if he proves himself this spring and early this season.

Nothing hammers this home more for me than the way Santana’s winter ball team handled him this winter. Many may not know, but for the most part winter ball teams are free to play Major League players how they choose. It is not like minor league baseball where teams are at the mercy of the players sent there by the parent club and also how the parent team decides to play them. Winter ball teams are their own entity and they play to win. The fans in those countries view those leagues in the same regard as Major League Baseball, if not more, and they are ga-ga crazy over the Caribbean World Series.

Yes, in order for a Major League player to have approval from a Major League team to play in winter ball there has to be an agreement. Included in this agreement are any playing time restrictions and whatnot, but a lot of that went away with the new agreement this offseason between the winter league teams and Major League Baseball. For the most part, Major League teams can no longer prevent a player from participating in winter ball or limit their time there.

Getting back to Santana, the key moment for me is how his Escogido team continued to use him at third base in the playoffs. He played over 20 games for them in the playoffs, and not once did they waver and consider taking him off the position. They could care less whether the Indians wanted him to get time at third base, all they cared about was winning so they could advance in the playoffs. If that meant Santana had to play first base or designated hitter for them, they would have done that.

Actions always speak louder than words. This applies to the baseball world as well. An organization can say a lot of good things about a player and focus on all of the positives, but it ultimately comes down to how they handle a player that speaks the truth about their true feelings for the player. Santana’s winter ball manager raved about his defense at third base, and some scouts from other teams even had some nice things to say, but it was his constant presence in the lineup every night at third base which really nailed it home for him that he truly is an option at third base for the Indians this season.

There is no doubt that Santana will at least play some third base this season, it is just a question of how much.  Whether he is the regular third baseman or platoons with Lonnie Chisenhall remains to be seen, and is something that will be worked out over the course of spring training.

Rotation or bust for Tomlin

The Indians and Josh Tomlin finally came to a resolution on his 2014 salary on Saturday when arbitrators sided with the Indians. This season he will make the $800K the Indians offered him rather than the $975K he was requesting.

With the money issue behind them, the Indians and Tomlin can now focus on his 2014 season and him being a possible solution to a significant need in the starting rotation. At the moment the Indians have just one starter,Justin Masterson, slotted into the top four spots of the rotation who have pitched a full Major League season. For as promising as Danny SalazarCorey Kluber and Zach McAllister are, neither has pitched an entire season in the big leagues.

Tomlin himself has never pitched a full season in the majors. He came close in 2011, but he missed time in August that season with an elbow injury and was ultimately shut down the final few weeks of the season. The elbow issues continued into 2012 when he eventually had Tommy John surgery in August of that year.

Now, Tomlin looks ready to fill a need in the rotation. At the moment Carlos Carrasco is the favorite at the outset of spring training mainly because he is out of options and has the stuff to be a bigger impact on the rotation. If Tomlin does not win a starting rotation spot in Cleveland, he is all but certain to open the year in the rotation at Triple-A Columbus.

I understand that some have said Tomlin may be an option for the bullpen in Cleveland at the start of the season. I think that could be the case later in the year, but not at the outset of the season when the Indians have a ton of options for the Major League pen and lots of bullpen depth to stuff at Columbus. But as that depth dwindles over the course of the season, Tomlin could be an option there, especially if someone like Carrasco, Shaun Marcum,Aaron Harang or Trevor Bauer more than adequately fill the fifth spot in the rotation.

I just don’t see how Tomlin can be a pen option at the outset of the season. The Indians greatest need right now is starting pitching depth, and if he does not make the opening day rotation he likely would be the first option the Indians would call upon to fill a starting need. In that sense, it makes a lot more sense to keep him pitching on a regular five day routine in Columbus and ready to go when needed rather than having him rot in the bullpen as a long man who may pitch once a week. On top of that he is coming off injury, so bouncing back and forth between the bullpen and rotation is probably not the best course of action for him.

So provided he remains healthy, expect one of two outcomes for Tomlin this spring: he wins a rotation spot in Cleveland or is optioned to Columbus and is the Indians sixth or seventh starter.

Harang pickup adds more depth

The Indians added another option to their fifth starter competition on Saturday when they inked right-handed pitcher Aaron Harang to a minor league deal with an invite to Major League spring training. If he makes the Indians opening day roster he will make $1 million.

Harang, 35, pitched for the Mariners and Mets last season and combined to make 26 starts and went 5-12 with a 5.40 ERA (143.1 IP, 2.5 BB/9, 7.1 K/9). In his 12-year Major League career he owns a career record of 110-116 with a 4.28 ERA in 325 games (319 starts).  Strangely, his walk rate, strikeout rate and WHIP last season were better than any of the three previous seasons from 2010-2012, two of which were good seasons, but he saw a spike in his home run rate last season which implies some trouble with multi-run homers really hurt his performance.

The pickup of Harang adds some intrigue to what is already a very volatile fifth starter battle this spring. The Indians have two pitchers in Shaun Marcum and Josh Tomlin coming off injury, Harang coming off a subpar year, the frontrunner and enigmatic Carlos Carrasco has struggled with consistency at the Major League level and top prospect Trevor Bauer is trying to regroup after a disappointing 2013 campaign. There may potentially be a Scott Kazmir-like solution in there like last season, or it could be a spot in the rotation that is in flux all season as the Indians attempt to find a consistent fit.

The addition of Harang does not change much nor settle some of that volatility, but he does bring a lot of durability and experience. Last year he went to spring training with the Dodgers, was traded to the Rockies at the end of spring training, and was traded to the Mariners a few days later. He was later released by the Mariners in August and spent the last few weeks with the Mets and pitched well for them. That was a lot of movement in one year.

It remains to be seen if Harang’s struggles last season were because he is wearing down and at his age he might be about done, or if it was just a tough year as a result of some crazy movement between four different organizations over the course of five months where he never really settled in. Apparently, teams had doubts as he was unable to land a Major League deal this offseason, so he now has to prove himself this spring, not just to make the Indians rotation but to also create some interest for another club if he turns out not to be a fit for the Indians.

Raburn looks to repeat

One of the more interesting storylines heading into the 2014 season is whether outfielder Ryan Raburn can come anywhere close to duplicating his performance last season when he hit .272 with 16 HR, 55 RBI and .901 OPS in 277 plate appearances. That was amazing production in what amounted to a little less than half a season for a normal player who piles up over 600 plate appearances in a given season.

There is certainly cause for concern and he could be a regression candidate. The IBI’s Michael Hattery laid out the concerns beautifully in that linked piece on Raburn, and I agree with a lot of them. There is no doubt that he will be hard-pressed to match that performance, although it should be noted that he had that strong showing because of the near perfect way manager Terry Francona mixed him in the lineup and limited his exposure to playing every day and facing certain pitching.

The way things look at the beginning of spring training the Indians will operate with a platoon in right field whereDavid Murphy gets most of the at bats against right-handed pitching and Raburn gets most of the at bats against left-handed pitching in order to keep both players healthy and maximize their effectiveness. But when I think about it a little more, depending on how the roster shakes out Raburn may not actually end up the platoon partner with Murphy, but someone like Jeff Francoeur could end up being that guy.

The Indians are working Raburn out some at first base this spring. He will probably also get some work at second base. Obviously the Indians are trying to increase his versatility and value to the team, but this may also be a sign that they may try to limit his exposure in the outfield this season. He missed a lot of time in the second half last season because of various injuries to both legs, and had an Achilles injury which really slowed him in August, so getting him out of the outfield mix would make some sense.

In the event Carlos Santana wins the everyday third base job, it would free up the designated hitter position for the Indians to use everyone on the roster in a rotational basis. It wouldn’t surprise me in this case if Raburn ended up the regular designated hitter against left-handed pitching and occasionally played in the field in order to help keep him healthy and his bat in the lineup.

Herrmann on comeback trail

One of the nice stories early in spring training is the return of right-handed reliever Frank Herrmann. Last season he injured his elbow during spring training and it resulted in Tommy John surgery in March thus wiping out his entire 2013 season.  About a year later, he is back healthy and looking to make an impression this spring in order to be an option for the Indians at some time this season.

Over the weekend Herrmann faced live hitters for the first time since his surgery and the outing went well. The Indians plan to ease him back into things over the coming weeks as they will give him extra time off between his pens and are hopeful that he can make his spring game debut in the Cactus League sometime in mid-March.

Now 29-years old, Herrmann still has a few obstacles to overcome before he can legitimately be an option once again in the Indians bullpen. The Indians have publicly said that he is in the mix for an opening day pen spot, but in truth he really is not an option right now. He knows that and they know that.  The most important thing for him and the team is to get him healthy and ready to contribute, and that requires patience and not pushing him too hard and too fast.

Also, the reality is that Herrmann is not a high profile pen prospect and is more middle relief depth, so there is no urgency to add him back into the mix. He also has options remaining.  Right now, the best course of action for him is to get back into the thick of things pitching in games by the middle to end of March.  He might go right to Triple-A Columbus at the outset of the season, but don’t be surprised if he opens the season in extended spring training in order to limit his workload in the early going and probably most importantly to limit his exposure to the cold weather in the early going in Columbus. The Indians have a history of handling guys this way when coming off major surgery.

If Herrmann goes to Columbus and continues to pitch well, he could be an option in Cleveland later in the year. Maybe even as soon as May.

Delivery adjustments ad nauseam

I always love the beginning of spring training.

It is the time when we hear about how players “are in the best shape of their lives” and have lost 10-20 pounds over the offseason, or how guys who have had injuries are “as healthy as they have ever been”.  My personal favorite is all of the pitchers that made some kind of adjustment to their delivery in the offseason, which of course spikes the hopes of fans that such pitchers can rebound and have a good season.

There are several such examples on the Indians roster this spring.  John Axford realized he was tipping his pitches, Nick Hagadone widened his setup and increased his tempo to improve his command, Trevor Bauer refined the significant delivery changes that were put in place in the middle of last season, and Carlos Carrasco altered his delivery to lift his lead arm a little bit to add some deception.

All of these changes may result in an improved showing this season for each pitcher, but only time will tell whether or not they make a difference. Bottom line, while everything looks good in theory, all of these changes aren’t known for sure until the real games start. Hundreds of pitchers around the league make similar delivery changes and adjustments every offseason, but in reality only a few benefit from the changes while others continue to have problems and continue to search for solutions to them.

Hopefully the likes of Axford, Hagadone, Bauer and Carrasco have truly turned the corner with the changes made this offseason because if they have then the Indians will really benefit from it this season. But I just wanted to remind everyone to take all these stories with a grain of salt as we still need to see if they pan out when the real balls begin to fly out of their hands when the season starts in April.

Parting shots

Right-handed starting pitcher Shaun Marcum is about 7-10 days behind the other starting pitchers in camp so will probably not make his Cactus League debut until the second week of spring games. He is still recovering from surgery to help relieve him of thoracic outlet syndrome. … Infielder Jose Ramirez is still recovering from thumb surgery in December and is still limited for another 7-10 days. Provided he has no setbacks he is expected to make his Cactus League debut sometime between March 10-15. … Right-handed reliever Matt Capps is recovering from surgery last June to repair a torn tendon in his right shoulder. He stands little chance to make the opening day roster and might even open the season in extended spring training depending on how the next six weeks go in Arizona. However it works out, he probably will go to Columbus before he gets any shot in Cleveland. … Late last week the Indians signed right-handed pitcher Kyle Davies to a minor league deal. The deal did not include a Major League spring training invite. … Former Indians right-handed pitcher Jake Westbrook has called it a career as he officially announced his retirement last week. … The Indians and Reds will hold “FanFest” on Saturday March 22 at Goodyear Ballpark. The family-friendly festival will be held from 5:30PM-8PM after the Indians take on the Colorado Rockies. For more information, go to Indians.com.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

Hermie13
February 19, 2014 - 10:33 AM EST
As said, you're blowing my comment way out of proportion. I never said Alomar was a bum, simply that you're giving him too much credit.

I don't think Alomar is a terrible coach...but he got passed over multiple times in NY before getting upset and leaving for Cleveland...has been passed over here for jobs (and essentially demoted) and has been passed over for multiple managerial positions. Maybe Alomar is the greatest coach ever...but nothing in his history really supports that theory.

Also want to clarify that I wasn't blaming Alomar for Marson and Santana's regressions. But just don't think it's right to praise him so much for Gomes and just ignore the other two.
Rick
February 18, 2014 - 8:17 PM EST
Ok let me get this straight before I head out to Goodyear next week.

Norm Cash did the advance scouting - and the fact that one of last years prime time subplots heading into ST portraying Alomar as an eager mentor to Yan was just a ruse?

Because Cash or others unmentioned are responsible for Yan emerging as an outstanding defensive force?

And Alomar is now on the 'outs' as no longer #2 bench coach - the prime spot next to skip in the dogout?

And this is all because Sandy is what? A 'Cooler' to borrow a warped version of logic from the gambling set? Not an Aqua Velva man? Why pray tell.

That passes as breaking MLB like Hot Stove content fellas. Common don't leave us hanging. When is the forced resignation?

@Brian - don't hold back if you have a hot line to the same scoop. I didn't create no fiction here on what may or may be happening via our dougout.

I just gave a shout out to a valued member of the staff who I believe (Even more so now) earned it.

That got poo poo'd and shot down...sort of. So common fellas, you got beans about some pending changes, how about spillin'

And one last. Lou Marson's career is on the mend in Philly cause Alomar got into his head before his injury? That's quaint.

As for pinning Sandy as the cause of so much regression, maybe just maybe it is really about moving Santana off a position that was chosen for him. As a teenager. And now as an adult he had more choices - all issues mentioned earlier.

Nor do I buy the 4 strikes interviewing and your out theory. It's about as sound as suggesting Tito had to take Sandy to begin with. He took him gladly because he is outstanding.

All we have heard regarding anything else is opinion and no facts.
dick
February 18, 2014 - 7:49 PM EST
Enjoyed reading your comments, Rick. Way cool to hear self-styled bulletin board experts get trashed once in awhile. It is impossible to hoist some of these jokers on their own petards insofar they refuse to recognize their petards.

By the way, great name, Rick
camfrommaine41
February 18, 2014 - 2:15 PM EST
Kevin cash spotted yan gomes in toronto and convinced tribe F.O. to bring him to tribe. Id imagine working with sandy would help all players let alone catchers.
@Camfrommaine
BrianM
February 18, 2014 - 1:30 PM EST
Wow Rick.

I think your blowing Hermie's comment out of proportion. Plus, I agree with Hermie to an extent. Gomes look pretty good behind the plate last year right from the get go, while Santana has actually regressed the last couple years under Alomar and the rest of the staff. Alomar has also been involved managerial discussions and interviews for 4 off seasons now, and has yet to land a job. I'm not saying he is a bad coach. I have no idea, but Hermie's comment is really not that silly.
Hermie13
February 18, 2014 - 1:23 PM EST
@Rick

Gomes went to AAA to work on his catching, Alomar was in Cleveland. And we saw Marson and Santana both regress defensively under Alomar.

As far as his demotion...Alomar went from bench coach to base coach. He already was a base coach so it wasn't made to get him more experience. Francona wanted someone else as his right hand man (what the bench coach essentiallly is).

Alomar is the Joel Skinner 2.0 as far as coaching goes IMO.
Hermie13
February 18, 2014 - 1:21 PM EST
IMO, if Francouer makes the team I'd assume Francona went with only 7 relievers.

If Santana is the everyday 3B and Chiz is in AAA, that means that a guy like Giambi would be starting almost everyday as we'd be seeing RH starters far more than lefties. That, or one of Raburn, Frenchy, Aviles would be starting a lot against righties....Raburn handled them well last year but have my doubts he'll keep it up, especially if he's playing nearly everyday.
Rick
February 18, 2014 - 1:08 PM EST
Hermie13 that is silly on all counts.

What demotion? Sandy is soon have his own club period. What is important to a seasoned coach heading into his next interview to land a team?

Experience - VARIED experience.

Why shouldn't Alomar get credit for Yan's rise? How about a little insight before you go off half cocked and say it ain't so, because it sure wound up on the field and Yan hasn't echoed your petty rant.

What, Gomes would have been Yad Molina in a half season but for the goofy theories of Sandy Alomar holding him back?

And common - you imply that Tito was STUCK with him? Are you kidding. What hater kool-aid got sprinkled on your cornflakes?

Oh, Ubaldo is a Bird because Sandy is still a coach? At least that has more credible logic.

My bad, thinking one of our greatest Tribe catchers, now a present coach, HAD SOMETHING to do with a rising star coming out of nowhere now being our backstop.

Wow.
Hermie13
February 18, 2014 - 12:56 PM EST
Rick....think you're giving Alomar way too much credit there. Also don't think Alomar is here just because Francona convinced him to stay...in fact, I'm not sold Francona is all that attached to Alomar. Essentially demoted him this year.
Tony
February 18, 2014 - 12:55 PM EST
TBone, if Francoeur makes the team, I am assuming Santana wins the regular 3B job which means Chisenhall is off the 25man roster.
Rick
February 18, 2014 - 11:51 AM EST
All I see is exciting possibilities with this move. Hopefully some real competition can press Chiz into getting over the hump.

It also bears mentioning that we only have this because of how rapidly Gomes dominated defensively. Gotta believe that was more than the Jays just missing on him.

Kudo's to Sandy Alomar for guiding his rapid development. And again, we only have Alomar because Tito made it a priority to convince him to stay when getting passed over via his hire.

That is a far cry from what we had in the Wedge & Acta years. I think we are enjoying some salad days and should just cherish the ride.
Tbone
February 18, 2014 - 11:46 AM EST
If Francoeur makes the team who gets bumped from the 25 man roster?
Tony
February 17, 2014 - 10:54 PM EST
Thanks Norm. Yeah, I could see a scenario where Francoeur is used as more of the platoon option in RF against lefties and Raburn is more the DH against lefties. Francoeur may not be very good defensively, but he is on par at least with Raburn and has a freaking cannon. And he has been a good hitter against lefties in his career. Some interesting possibilities for sure with the roster.

Also, Path, I am not saying that the winter league team playing Santana at third base is the be all end all....but it is enough to put me over the top and off the fence. Bottom line, if they didn't like how he was playing there they could have easily kept him in the lineup and played him at 1B or DH.
Joe Chengery
February 17, 2014 - 10:43 PM EST
At $12M/year, it was about where I though Ubaldo would get, though the four-year length was a bit longer than I thought (thought 3 and an option at most). Hopefully, it will work out for the Indians (and for Ubaldo Jimenez as well, except against the Indians, of course).

Two things will be interesting to see: Can Ubaldo keep up the performance away from Callaway and the Indians, and especially in the AL East.

Will the Indians also hold their ground against Masterson, as I personally wouldn't be willing to pay the average annual amount Cinci might pay for Bailey ($16.7M) - I wouldn't have paid Ubaldo that. It will be interesting to see how Masterson's average annual salary turns out, both in comparison to Jimenez and Bailey.
Norm
February 17, 2014 - 10:11 PM EST
I liked the article which I felt was insightful into the Indians thinking. As I commented earlier, Hattery's piece on Raburn was no big woop that I can see but maybe it was for other readers. Your observation regarding the Francoeur was more newsworthy to me. I am not sure Francoeur's range makes him the quality defender he was in years past but it still might be superior to Raburn.

The O's signing of Ubaldo is the big tribe news of the day IMO. It will be a while before we can close the book on the trade but it sure looks like a positive for the Indians now. It would not shock me if we see similar happenings with Masterson next year. Have to wish UJ well. He had his lows but he did what was hoped when the trade was made and the cost was really minimal (at this time).

I will miss our little get together at ST this year but look forward to you being my eyes and ears.
Tommy Lee
February 17, 2014 - 9:30 PM EST
I remember seeing Carlos Santana when he was at Double-A and I was very impressed with him for many reasons. One of them was is athleticism. He's since gained some weight, but just watching him run and move, it was apparent he had the athletic aptitude to play many positions on the diamond. SS and CF would be a stretch, but 3b and RF/LF were very realistic options. I remember thinking the Indians may want to move him off C to preserve his health because Santana wasn't a big guy at the time and C may beat him up over time. I didn't think that his poor defense at C would have been a reason for moving him to 3b, but regardless it was still an option.

Santana played 3b for the Dodgers when he was a teenager. I've never seen his infield skills, but athletically I think he's got what it takes. I'd prefer him to be a little lighter if he's going to play 3b so hopefully he's shed some LB's.

The problem with Santana at 3b is I think it's too soon to give up on Lonnie Chisenhall. That's some wasted value if you block Chisenhall, prospectively. We'll see how this progresses, but this will probably be a big story this spring.
Pathofkindness
February 17, 2014 - 9:19 PM EST
Nice piece Tony.

I like that they are giving Carlos a chance at 3B. I'm glad you shot down the talk of his winter league team operating at the Tribe's direction. It was so irritating that some writers kept saying that.

That said, you stretch a bit (uh, a lot) when you try to make the case that the reason Santana can play third is because the DL manager played him there in the playoffs. Heck, there was no way in hell they were going to sit him, and there was no way any member of the team was going to beat him out, even if he made two errors a game -- the manager would have been shot on the spot if Carlos had been on the bench! In reality, Carlos, w his bat and his ML track record so completely dwarfs the guys around him (despite the fact that he struggled all season) that he pretty much gets to play wherever he wants. He's that good relative to the other DL players, who, btw are just awesome players, but basically the equivalent of AA players. That's why he was playing, not because he's ready to play 3B at a ML level.
Roger
February 17, 2014 - 8:45 PM EST
i may be wrong but outside of sele in chicago and smyle in detroit i cant think of any other LH starter in a division in which we will play 76 games so it isnt like we are expectiong Carlos to play 3B a slew of games if we see 20 lefty starters i will be surprised. price Lester, CC, behrle, CJ Wilson holland from tx, i can not think of many more left handed starters that would require Carlos to play more than 20 to 25 games at third so if he is slighly below avg it shouldnt be critical. As a seperate issue why would anto and tito want aaron harang in the spring to get evaluationg innings of the other 4 candidates.
The CPT, on a Rhymin' Spree
February 17, 2014 - 8:03 PM EST
Ubaldo to Baltimore. You heard it here first
yourtribe
February 17, 2014 - 7:43 PM EST
We went through this a few weeks ago, but I see no reason Santana can't be the everyday 3d baseman if he is just good defensively. 3d has been a dead spot for way to long. If Lonnie actually does step up this year, it will be a good problem to have. I just dont see it but hope I'm wrong.


GSon
February 17, 2014 - 4:18 PM EST
Another great problem brewing with this starting rotation. Without Ubaldo, the Indians are 7 deep. Tomlin making the starting rotation out of spring would mean he's taken on a couple of very talented youngsters and showed them throwing strikes makes a difference.. Maybe that message will sink in..
Walter
February 17, 2014 - 4:03 PM EST
Great article Tony! This could be the most interesting spring training in a long time. Expectations a lot higher than last year. Concerns are a lot higher than last year. I guess a successful season brings up these expectations and concerns.

I believe Francona has said it harder to go from 92 wins to 95 wins than from 68 to 92.

Let the spring games begin so we can get the answers to the question that everyone has. Go Tribe!!!

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