Is Moving Carlos Santana to Third Base a Wise Decision?


Carlos Santana is Taking Grounders at the Hot Corner

Looking for ways to bolster their lineup on a budget, the Cleveland Indians may resort to a truly unconventional solution to their third base problem. With Lonnie Chisenhall failing to grab the proverbial bull by the horns at third base and Mike Aviles established as a prototypical platoon player, the Indians may turn to Carlos Santana to man the hot corner in 2014.

Yes, you read that correctly. Carlos Santana may be a legitimate candidate to play third base for the Indians in 2014. You can pick your jaws up off the floor any time now.

Jun 18, 2013; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians catcher Carlos Santana (41) against the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field. Cleveland won 4-3. Mandatory Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Indians beat writer Paul Hoynes reported the news on Monday morning. He stated in his story that with Yan Gomes looking more and more like the everyday starting catcher, the Indians are exploring all possibilities with Santana. Among those possibilities is a full-time move to third base. Santana started his professional career at third base in 2006. With the low A affiliate of the Dodgers, Santana committed 12 errors and posted an .860 fielding percentage in 38 games.

Of the move, Hoynes had the following to say:

"“How Santana performs at third this winter will probably determine the Indians next step. Presently, third base is being manned by the platoon of Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles. The Indians have been waiting for Chisenhall to take the job for two years, but injuries and inconsistent play have stopped him.”“With Gomes taking over at catcher, and Nick Swisher a regular at first, the switch-hitting Santana could become the full-time DH, but at 27 that’s not going to do much to help his value.”“If Santana shows he can play third base on a regular basis, the Indians could add another hitter at DH and improve the offense. Santana has been a consistent run producer for the Indians, averaging 22 homers and 76 RBI over the last three seasons, while never having an OPS lower than .785.”"

However, the two mains questions that need to be answered are, “How well does Santana need to play third this winter in the Dominican in order to be given serious consideration for the starting third base job?” and “What does this mean for the future of Lonnie Chisenhall?”

Starting with the first question, the answer is not something we can really begin to even wager a guess on. Obviously, if Santana displays hands of stone, poor footwork, and commits a plethora of errors the experiment will end before it every really begins. If he displays gold glove caliber defense and acts like a human vacuum cleaner than Santana may very well win the job. However, neither of those scenarios are probably likely to happen.

The truth of the matter is the Santana’s performance will more than likely fall into a gray area somewhere in between those two extremes. It will then be up to the Indians to decide whether or not they can survive defensively with Carlos Santana at third base. If they think they can, then perhaps it’s time to start rethinking their sanity.

Aug 17, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Cleveland Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (8) reacts after striking out against the Oakland Athletics during the fourth inning at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Putting Carlos Santana at third base, a position that has several nuances that take years to master, could make an already defensively weak left side of the infield and make it worse. Asdrubal Cabrera posted a -16 defensive runs saved in 2013 and a -16.8 UZR. No matter what defensive metric you use to rate him, he just isn’t very good. Adding Santana into that equation could potentially make for one of the worst defensive left sides of the infield we have ever seen.

That leads to the second and, quite frankly, more important question. What is the impact of moving Carlos Santana to third base on Lonnie Chisenhall? His confidence has already been beaten down several times prior. How does anyone expect him to recover from the possibility of losing his job at third base to the team’s starting catcher from the past three seasons? Maybe this provides the motivation Chisnehall needs to focus and win the job once and for all. Or maybe, it is the final nail in the coffin of one of the Indians most highly touted young prospects.

For what it’s worth, Chisenhall did show improvement in the second half of last season both offensively and defensively. He finished out the season with 11 home runs and 30 RBI. As of right now, he is projected to hit .257/.311/.429 in 2014 with 15 home runs and 50 RBI. In the field, Chisenhall closed out 2013 with 1 defensive run saved and a -4.6 UZR. Sure, that’s not very good, but it can’t be any worse than what we might see from Carlos Santana.

So do you risk ruining one of the organization’s top young talents for a roll of the dice on moving your starting catcher to third base? The answer has to be no. But then again, I’m not the one making that decision. I’m not the one scouting Santana’s play or charting how he fields the position. Someone well above my pay grade will be blessed (or cursed) with that responsibility. I just hope that the Indians know what they are doing because the ramifications of such a decision may be irreversible.