CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – This writer has tried to make it abundantly clear that, subjectively speaking, retaining Carlos Santana should be the top priority for the Cleveland Indians after the departure of Mickey Callaway.
It is easy in baseball to say a front office should do something or not, especially without knowing a team’s budget. Luckily, we can try and derive a player’s worth before trying to assume whether or not that would fit into a team’s budget.
According to Fangraphs, Carlos Santana’s past two seasons were worth $24M and $29.3M on the open market, respectively. That number is derived from a conversion of a player’s WAR into a dollar amount. Those WAR numbers were 3.0 and 3.7 in relation.
Even the lower of those base salaries, a $24M per year contract, would place Santana 12th in baseball among earners from 2017. Santana is not the 12th-best player in baseball, and is actually rated the 11th-best free agent this off-season by Jon Heyman and Fanrag Sports.
Heyman projects Santana’s free agent contract to be a $48M deal over 3 years, a $16M-per-year deal. In the same piece, Heyman consults and unnamed “expert,” who he says is a perfect 10-for-10 over the years in predicting salaries in comparison. The expert projects a $38M deal over 3 years, $12.67M-per-year.
Spotrac, a website that houses accurate salary information, projects Santana to make even more than Heyman and his consultant, using statistical analysis and linear regression to compare contracts and project new ones. Their number: 5 years, $91.47M, $18.3M per year.
Santana has turned down the Indians’ qualifying offer according to Heyman, a one-year, $17.4M deal, which was just a formality. He made $12M last season in his age-31 season.
Obviously, it makes sense for a soon-to-be 32-year-old to turn down a one-year deal when he will get at least three-years of similar cash guaranteed.
While that $18.3M figure makes sense when figuring in others’ contracts, there are plenty of other factors to help (or complicate) the ironing out process.
On one side, Santana has turned himself into a tremendous defensive first-baseman, winning the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year at the position. By the same token, defensive success is best measured over three years, and Santana was not nearly as polished in 2015 making his success harder to project.
Santana is versatile, a switch-hitter who can hit anywhere in the top-5 of a batting order, and has also shown a penchant to shift to the outfield though in a very small sample size.
Ultimately, Santana is a first-baseman, and the market at the position is one that has dragged down over the past few years. That was seen as Edwin Encarnacion’s value dropped so far below what was projected that he wound up with Cleveland.
The oft-compared deal for Mike Trumbo last off-season came in at 3-years, $37.5M, an $11M-per-year deal. Trumbo signed on prior to his age-31 season compared to Santana at 32, but it would seem Santana carries a bit more value than Trumbo due to his defense and the fact that he is not one-dimensional as a hitter.
One completely circumstantial matter is Santana’s seeming desire to remain in Cleveland, as he penned an article during the 2017 season about his love for the town. He could consider a hometown discount, and that 3-year, $38 million deal that Heyman’s expert predicted could be right around there.
Considering the Indians exercised Michael Brantley’s $12M option, they had to already have taken into consideration the potential uptick in Santana’s desires should they want to retain him.
If Santana is offered that $19M-per year deal that Spotrac projected, he could be as good as gone, with $7M per year added to a payroll that already took on Encarnacion by surprise. Retaining Santana at 3-years, $38M or even adding an extra year at 4-years, $50M would seem a no-brainer.
Anything between those two numbers would come down to value lost by a cheaper option, like Logan Morrison who played for $2.5M last season, or what the team’s budget winds up being.
Predicton: Personally, this writer believes that the union between the Indians and Santana is mutual, and a compromise will be made. Expect Santana to get a nice offer, but stay in Cleveland to the tune of $13M over three or four years.