The Indians have been active in extension talks of late, reaching multi-year agreements with infielder Jose Ramirez (five years, $26MM) and catcher Roberto Perez (four years, $9MM) in addition to making an effort to hammer out a deal with star shortstop Francisco Lindor. They may not be done just yet, either, as Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Indians will explore an extension with first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana in attempt to prevent him from reaching free agency following the 2017 season.
Santana, 31 this weekend, has long been one of the most productive and durable hitters in the Cleveland lineup. Dating back to the 2011 campaign, he’s been on the disabled list just once: an 11-day absence on the 7-day DL in 2014 due to concussion symptoms. Since Opening Day 2011, Santana has averaged 153 games and 654 plate appearances per season. In that time, his bat has been above the league average in each year, and his collective .247/.363/.443 batting line in that time has translated to a 121 OPS+ and a 124 wRC+ (meaning, essentially, that he’s been 21 percent to 24 percent better than the league-average hitter after accounting for league and park).
While Santana was a catcher for much of his early career and had a brief experiment as a third baseman in 2014, he’s largely limited to first base and designated hitter duties at this stage of his career. He played only those two positions during the regular season in 2015-16 (plus two left field appearances in the World Series), and it doesn’t seem especially likely that a team would feel comfortable playing him elsewhere with any sort of regularity.
It’s certainly possible to envision Santana preferring to remain with the only team he’s ever known and one that looks to be very well-positioned for the near future. However, a significant discount on an extension may not be likely with free agency just six months away. His initial contract — a five-year, $21MM extension — already looks to be a feather in Cleveland’s cap, after all, even with his 2017 option elevating his total earnings to $31.8MM over six years.
Then again, Santana will hit the open market heading into his age-32 season and with the memory of a free-agent market that was not kind to defensively limited sluggers fresh in his mind. From my vantage point, he’s a definite qualifying offer candidate at season’s end, which wouldn’t do any favors for his market. (Although Santana may not face the same hurdles as others have in recent years now that the new collective bargaining agreement has lowered the penalty for signing a player that rejected a QO.)
Cleveland entered the 2017 season with a club-record $128MM payroll, but the Indians only have about $77MM committed to the 2018 payroll. That sum could rise depending on the fate of outfielder Michael Brantley ($11MM club option), left-hander Boone Logan ($7MM club option) and Josh Tomlin ($3MM club option). There will also be arbitration raises on the horizon for Cody Allen, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Lonnie Chisenhall, Zach McAllister and Dan Otero, further complicating the financial outlook. That said, if ownership is comfortable with a payroll in this range once again in 2018, the Indians could probably fit a Santana extension into the payroll — especially were it to be backloaded in nature.