As crazy as it sounds, letting Carlos Santana get some reps at third base could be best for the Cleveland Indians in both 2019 and 2020.
This move may not make sense on the surface, and that’s understandable. Santana has been one of the Tribe’s best players in 2019 so why mess with a good thing? But there’s real baseball logic to this move, I promise.
With the injuries to Jose Ramirez and Jason Kipnis, the Tribe is faced using two of Mike Freeman, Yu Chang, Ryan Flaherty, and Andrew Velazquez every single day between second and third base. To say the least, that’s…less than ideal, especially for a club fighting for their playoff lives.
To the surprise of
everyone, Freeman has played very well this year hitting .274/.371/.404 with a 105 wRC+ in 66 games. He’s been arguably better since Ramirez got hurt as well hitting .278 with an eye-popping .404 OBP since August 24th (the game Ramirez left with injury). Having Freeman start is not necessarily an issue…but the other three?
Yu Chang seemed like the future at third at one time. But he’s been plagued by injury at times and struggled when healthy at Columbus this year hitting just .253/.322/.427, “good” for an 88 wRC+. He did play better later in the year and has had his moments with the big league club but he’s still hitting just .208/.311/.321 with a 68 wRC+ in his 19 games with the team. One could expect him to get better with more playing time but ZiPS doesn’t project that, giving him an even worse 64 wRC+ outlook.
Even mentioning Ryan Flaherty as an option makes me cringe. The 33-year-old veteran has over 1400 plate appearances in his big league career and an OBP below .290. No Triple-A numbers, however good, will change that. Even being on the roster is a headscratcher let alone starting.
Andrew Velazquez is at least young and perhaps the Tribe sees something in him that his numbers cannot show. They acquired him from the Tampa Bay Rays earlier this summer and he has multiple minor league options remaining so he figures to stick around through the winter. Perhaps the switch hitter can form some kind of platoon with Chang…OR…the Indians could throw caution to the wind and move a REAL big league bat to the hot corner.
I’m not completely irrational here. I know Santana to third base is hardly an ideal solution. I haven’t forgotten how he was pretty horrible when the Tribe used him at third back in 2014. That year he posted a -5 DRS and -4.4 UZR before being moved off the position. However, he did play third base last year for the Philadelphia Phillies at the end of the year and actually looked solid.
The metrics backed it up with a +1 DRS and +0.4 UZR. Now, that’s an extremely limited sample size so the numbers could be misleading but it’s nevertheless encouraging. Before the end of last year, Santana even said he’d be open to playing third base for the Phillies in 2019 (before being traded):
"“I’d be open to it,” he said. “I’m prepared for any situation. All I care about is being in the lineup every day. It doesn’t matter if I’m at first or third.”"
Talk about a real team player. Santana would catch again if Tito asked him to.
The best part of this move could be that it fixes things for the Indians heading into 2020. It would allow Ramirez to move back to second base permanently where he’s much better suited defensively. So while the Indians would be losing defense at third base they’d be improving their keystone defense by a ton (no offense to Kipnis or Freeman, but Jose is much better). A Francisco Lindor/Jose Ramirez double play combo up the middle would be arguably the best in baseball.
In addition to fixing second base, moving Santana to third would open up first base for Jake Bauers. I give Bauers all the credit in the world for playing outfield and I still believe he can play the position but he’s a natural first baseman and it shows when he’s out there. The lefty looks so much better there and perhaps that will help his bat as well. Another option at first base could be top minor league slugger Bobby Bradley. The Indians could let the two battle it out for playing time at first base while Franmil Reyes locks down the DH spot.
Santana can still play first base at times if Chang proves ready. Or maybe he moves there full-time eventually and Bauers back to the outfield (or to a utility/bench role). Either way, it’s using the roster you have to put the best team on the field. That’s what the Indians need to get back to. They need to make some tough/bold choices to not only salvage their 2019 playoff hopes but also for the 2020 season and beyond.
So what do you think, should the Indians “get crazy” and let Santana play some third base to put the best offense on the field the last two weeks of 2019? Should they consider him an option there heading into 2020 even if in a part-time/platoon role?
Remember, this is the same Indians team that twice moved Kipnis to center field and Santana to the outfield for a World Series game. Is Santana to third any worse than those? Let us know in the comments below.