When the news went public, it seemed like a longshot. Santana had caught 319 games for Cleveland in the past four seasons and played another 116 at first base, but it was his bat that endeared him to the team, not his glove. This third base thing, though? The Indians are liking what they've seen so far.
Manager Terry Francona announced Tuesday that Santana, 27, will be the club's starting third baseman in 2014, pulling off a mid-career position switch that will give the Indians a much-improved bat at a corner infield position where Lonnie Chisenhall hit a meager .225 last season with 11 homers and 36 RBIs in 94 starts.
MLB.com's Jordan Bastian fills in the particulars from the Tribe's clubhouse:
Francona said today that Santana is the Tribe's third baseman. It won't be a platoon situation with Chisenhall. Santana also backup catcher.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 25, 2014
How Chisenhall will be used remains fluid. He will likely see ABs at third base when Santana catches. Can also DH, or come off bench as PH.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 25, 2014
Francona: "I thought we could be the best team with Carlos and Lonnie. I'm not exactly sure how that's going to play itself out."— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 25, 2014
Santana knew his place — he's a good hitter, a 20-home run 80-RBI guy, who the Indians want in the lineup. He's not the best catcher on the team, that's Yan Gomes. The Indians paid Nick Swisher a good amount of money to play first.
Santana could easily DH — he did so in 47 games last season, or he could make room for another bat in the lineup and fill a team need by learning third base at the big-league level. He'd played in Single-A in 2008, but not since.
He started playing the position again in the Dominican Republic winter league, where Mike Sarbaugh, the Indians infield coach, joined him for instruction.
Santana played 71 innings at third this spring, making two errors. Chisenhall made two errors also, in 83 innings.
For the Indians, the ultimate question was this: How much do we want to invest in a better-hitting third baseman? Or can we settle for a remodel? Pablo Sandoval, for example, is going to be a free agent after this season and reportedly wants a $90 million contract.
If that's the going rate for a third baseman who can hit, then giving Santana a chance makes a lot of sense for the Indians. Even if it comes with a few growing pains, and it surely will.
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