Monday, October 22, 2018 Elyria 34°


Commentary: Indians have decision to make with Santana and Bruce


Wednesday night’s game against the Twins in Minneapolis was postponed by rain. The game will be made up as part of a doubleheader today.

By the end of this season only three players in Indians history will have more career walks than Carlos Santana. Two are in the Hall of Fame (Tris Speaker and Lou Boudreau), and one soon will be (Jim Thome).

This by itself is unique. Because forget the Hall of Fame, Santana has never been selected to even one All-Star team.

That’s not to say he hasn’t had a substantial career.

Santana must be doing something right, because he’s making $12 million this year, which is pretty good for a career .247 hitter.

That’s pretty much what Santana has been during his seven years with the Indians: pretty good, and pretty good pays pretty well in the major leagues.

Santana has drawn more walks and hit more home runs (169) than any switch-hitter in Indians history. By the end of this season he will have the most career RBI by any Indians switch hitter. His body of work for the Indians puts him in the discussion for best switch-hitter in franchise history.

Omar Vizquel, Carlos Baerga, Victor Martinez, Roberto Alomar and Eddie Murray are all switch-hitters who had better individual seasons than Santana’s best, but when it comes to consistently grinding out solid major league seasons over the long haul, Santana’s seven years in Cleveland stack up very well.

Maybe not All-Star-caliber seasons, but seasons for which employers are willing to pay handsomely. Put it this way: until the Indians’ recent acquisition of Jay Bruce, Santana ($12 million) was the second-highest paid player on the defending American League champions.

What Santana makes, and what Santana produces, compared to what Bruce makes ($13 million), and what Bruce produces will become a talking point for Indians officials when they finally put away the bats and balls for good in 2017.

Because both Santana and Bruce will be free agents after this season, and it’s problematical whether the Indians can, or want to keep one or both in 2018.

For the remaining six weeks of this season, plus the postseason, having both Bruce and Santana is especially valuable, because it gives greater depth and production to the Indians’ lineup, particularly with two starting outfielders, Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall, on the disabled list.

Bruce was considered a rental when the Indians acquired him a week ago at minimal cost (a lower level minor league reliever) in what was basically a salary dump by the Mets, who were willing to accept a grilled cheese sandwich in exchange for the Indians picking up the $3.7 million remaining on Bruce’s contract.

That contract was the final year in a six-year $51 million deal Bruce originally signed with Cincinnati, meaning the Indians are the third team to be awarded custody of that contract.

Santana, whom the Indians acquired from the Dodgers nine years ago in a trade for Casey Blake, who retired six years ago _ not a bad trade, huh? _ is in the final year of a five-year, $21 million contract that included a $12 million club option for this year.

Having said all that, however, let’s not forget that the free agent market last winter was not kind to players such as Santana and Bruce _ thirty-something slugging corner outfield/first baseman/DH-types.

One-year deals were all that Jose Bautista ($18.5 million from Toronto), Carlos Beltran ($16 million from Houston) and Mike Napoli ($8.5 million from Texas) could squeeze from the market.

Of course, Edwin Encarnacion cashed in relatively big _ though not as whopper-ish as his camp originally hoped _ when his frosty market dropped low enough (three-years, $60 million) for the Indians’ taste.

The Orioles brought back Mark Trumbo for three-years, $37.5 million, a deal that feels like the aisle Santana and Bruce might be forced to shop in this winter.

The two of them are an interesting contrast in profiles. Bruce is younger (he’ll play next season at 31), hits for more power, with a slightly higher batting average, slightly lower WAR. He’s a three-time All-Star.

Santana (he’ll play at 32 next year) has never made the all-star team, but he strikes out less and walks more than Bruce, and as a switch-hitter Santana always has a platoon advantage in his at bats, something the left-handed hitting Bruce doesn’t offer.

Both are durable. Over the last six years Santana has averaged 153 games per season, Bruce 152. Defensively, they’re comparable. Not great. Not awful.

A lot can happen between now and the winter free agent season, but it seems likely the Indians, at best, could bring back one, but not both, next year.

So, they’ll have to make a choice, and even in that, there’s no guarantee that the one they prefer would be the one they could afford.

There’s also the possibility that Bruce and Santana may both be too expensive to bring back, which makes the next two months more important than ever for the Indians.


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