MONDAY: In the "Around the Horn" section of his latest column, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports writes that despite Santana's comments, club officials will wait until Spring Training to make a definitive call on his position. The team still hasn't ruled out using Chisenhall at third base, according to Rosenthal.
FRIDAY: Carlos Santana has served as the club's primary backstop for the last three seasons, but says he is preparing to play at the hot corner in 2014, according to ESPNDeportes.com's Enrique Rojas (Spanish language link). Though Santana was known to be trying his hand at a return to third — where he spent some time early in his professional career — this report indicates a much more serious likelihood of a position shift.
As Santana explains (all translation errors mine), he is only preparing to play third at this point in time. "Those are the plans of the team at this moment," Santana said. Indicating that the club asked him to give third a try, Santana said he "took a month thinking about it before accepting."
Santana seemed destined to spend less time at the catcher position anyway next season, for several reasons. To begin with, the 27-year-old's bat is good enough to play anywhere on the diamond. Last year, he posted a .268/.377/.455 triple-slash, including twenty home runs, in 642 plate appearances. That was good for a 137 OPS+, a particularly impressive mark given that Santana labored behind the dish for 84 games.
And while any player can theoretically be more valuable while playing a defense-first position like catcher, Santana had increasingly struggled at the spot. Defensive Runs Saved panned Santana's work in 2013, and recent pitch framing metrics (e.g., here and here) have viewed him as a poor framer. There were good reasons for Cleveland to limit Santana's defensive impact, though of course third is hardly the easiest position. (And UZR has not looked kindly on Santana's 942 2/3 career innings at first, though he told Rojas that he never felt comfortable there.)
Most importantly, perhaps, is the emergence of Yan Gomes, who was picked up from the Blue Jays in a deal that has strongly favored the Indians to date. The 26-year-old's emergence last year played a big role in fueling the club's Wild Card run. He hit .294/.345/.481 in 322 plate appearances, splitting time at catcher with Santana. In just 88 games, Gomes was worth 3.7 fWAR and 4.0 rWAR, drawing positive reviews for his defensive work.
The news on Santana could have hot stove implications. For one, it may explain why the club has done little to push Lonnie Chisenhall outside of inking David Adams, who has just 152 big league plate appearances under his belt despite the fact that he will turn 27 in May. For what it is worth, Santana is a better hitter from the right side (.855 OPS vs. .794 OPS hitting lefty), though he'd surely find his bat at another position in the lineup if he were to platoon at third.
Of course, if Cleveland no longer plans to give Chisenhall regular at-bats, it raises the question why the team was so hesitant to part with him in a prospective Matt Garza trade deadline deal. And if Santana were to spend significant time at third, it could make the 25-year-old a candidate to be dealt. He was once a top-25 prospect, and his career .694 OPS has come in only 682 plate appearances over three MLB seasons.
If Santana is able to play a passable third, moreover, it could impact the fate of both he and Gomes. Spending less energy behind the dish, and more time in the lineup, could lead to bigger offensive numbers for Santana. He would make for quite an interesting multi-position player, given his outstanding bat, and would increase his stock as a trade piece or eventual free agent. (He is signed through 2016, plus the Indians hold an option for the following season.)
As for Gomes, the shifting of the club's prized young catcher off of the catching position would open up a world of opportunity. Gomes would presumably be looked upon as the catcher of the future in Cleveland. The Oliver and Steamer projection systems (via Fangraphs) both project him to keep hitting at better than league average, and view him as a three or four win player in a full-time role. Eligible for arbitration after the 2015 season, Gomes would have a chance to build real value through arbitration or as an extension candidate.
Steve Adams contributed to this post.