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Cleveland Indians: Was moving on from Santana the right choice?

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Now that we are almost through the the 2018 season, we take a look at how well the Cleveland Indians turned out with Yonder Alonso over Carlos Santana.

Whenever a move is made in sports, it’s always put under a microscope. Who made out with the better haul, what grade should each team receive, and which team is better set for the future. The Cleveland Indians decision to let Carlos Santana walk in free agency then replace him with the much cheaper Yonder Alonso wasn’t an actual  player for player trade.

But the Indians did have a choice. They were allowed to match the three-year, $60 million contract offered by the Phillies. But Cleveland let Santana walk and set their sights on a replacement. Enter Yonder Alonso.

Alonso was coming off a breakout year with the Athletics. He was voted into his first All-Star game and was up for free agency.

He was a similar player to Santana but without the track record to back him up. So entering the final full month of the regular season, let’s look at how this swap has turned out so far and if the Indians could be considered “winners” at the end of all this.

I’ll be looking at several different factors of comparison between the two options, Santana and Alonso. If Alonso has the edge, point Cleveland. If Santana has the edge, minus a point.

If it ends on a positive, then the move has been a good one so far and if it ends on negative then they should’ve retained Santana. Pretty simple stuff.

The Money

It’s cut and dry the Indians saved money by signing Yonder Alonso instead of retaining Carlos Santana. Santana eventually signed a three-year, $60 million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies that the Tribe chose not to match.

They then got Alonso on a modest 2 year, $16 million deal. The difference saves them $12 million annually and frees them up to reassess and not be locked in for more than two years.

But before Santana’s deal with the Phillies came to fruition, the Indians were reportedly offering Santana a three-year, $36 million deal.

So while yes, the Indians would never have shelled out $60 million to Santana, they still found Alonso for $4 million cheaper per year than what they wanted to pay Santana. Point one for Cleveland.

Offensive Production

Obviously every contract is different. Giancarlo Stanton has a bigger contract than Mikie Mahtook. He gives his team more so he gets more. It’s a fact of sports, it’s a fact of life.

There are discrepancies sometimes. A team has more money to give and a player gets grossly overpaid but for the most part that’s all standard.

So while the Indians may have made the better financial deal by moving on from Santana and signing Alonso, it’s also important to see what difference in production they’re getting.

So far in 2018, Alonso has 437 plate appearances over 121 games. He’s slashing .247/.313/.439 and has hit 22 home runs, 18 doubles, drove in 76 RBI’s (already a career high), scored 56 runs and drawn 43 walks.

If he plays the final 29 games of the season, he’s on pace to finish with 27 home runs, 22 doubles, 94 RBI’s, score 69 runs and draw 53 walks.

His slashing numbers have dipped from his career year last year, but most of his production is marginally lower while his RBI total has skyrocketed.

Meanwhile Carlos Santana in 2018 has 459 plate appearances over 132 games. He’s slashing .222/.349/.412 and has hit 20 home runs, 23 doubles, drove in 77 RBI’s, scored 68 runs and drawn 92 walks.

If he too plays in his teams final 29 games he will be on pace to finish with 24 home runs, 28 doubles, 93 RBI’s, score 83 runs and draw 112 walks.

For the most part they’re neck and neck across the board with just 22 plate appearances separating them. Alonso has a better batting average, Santana a better on-base percentage. Alonso has more home runs, Santana has more doubles and walks (a TON more walks). Both players even have the same exact WAR rating of one.

It’s practically a wash. But this only heightens the difference in their contracts. The Indians have been able to match Santana’s production while saving $12 million a year. So while I can’t exactly give or take a point from Cleveland for a difference in production, the fact that they’re getting essentially the same play for almost half the money warrants a gold star. One gold star for the Tribe.

Defensive Production

One of the biggest losses with losing Santana was his defensive play. Santana had vastly improved his defense at first base over the past few years, so much so that he received Gold Glove buzz and won Wilson Defensive Player of the Year in 2017.

But so far this season, there still hasn’t been much of a drop off between Santana and Alonso. Santana has a .991 fielding percentage at first base and Alonso is right there behind him with .990. And when you look at defensive WAR, Alonso (-.4 DWAR) is actually doing slightly better than Santana (-.9 DWAR).

So for many people, myself included, who were worried about the defensive drop from Santana to Alonso, didn’t actually have any reason to be worried, meaning this is another wash. If you consider the $12 million the Indians are saving on the switch again then the Tribe deserve a thumbs up. Thumbs up for the Indians.

It worked out for the best

So the point system didn’t exactly come together correctly. I gave the Tribe one point for saving money, a gold star for even offensive production and a thumbs-up for the wash in defensive production and I don’t really know how to compare those units because there’s no conversion chart in my notebook.

But it’s still pretty clear that the Indians made the right choice. They’re getting the nearly the exact same production, both offensively and defensively, that Santana is providing in Philadelphia while saving $12 million a year.

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And even if Santana had signed the cheaper deal initially offered by the Indians, they would still be saving $4 million a year with Alonso’s current deal. That saved money can then be funneled back into the team to improve them to a point even better than what they could have reached with Santana. It’s still World Series or bust with Alonso.