GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It’s time to put an end to all the speculation. After rumors began swirling last week about outfielder Domingo Santana coming to Cleveland, the Indians made the one-year deal, with a club option for 2021, official Friday morning.
Dominican Republic reporter Yancen Pujols first reported the signing on Feb. 5, but the Tribe did not confirm until Santana reported to Spring Training earlier this week to take his physical. According to MLB Network Insider Ken Rosenthal, Santana will earn $1.5 million in 2020 and could make $5 million in ’21 should the club pick up his option. In order to clear space on the 40-man roster, the Indians designated utility man Andrew Velazquez for assignment.
“It’s a great organization,” Santana said. “I’m really glad that I’m part of this organization. I like that I’m a part of it because I remember I used to see Manny Ramirez here a lot. … I’m just fortunate to be around this group of guys.”
When a player's contract is designated for assignment -- often abbreviated "DFA" -- that player is immediately removed from his club's 40-man roster. Within seven days of the transaction (had been 10 days under the 2012-16 Collective Bargaining Agreement), the player can either be traded or placed on irrevocable outright waivers.
Because the Indians have both Mike Freeman and Christian Arroyo as utility options, they had a little bit of wiggle room to DFA Velazquez. The Tribe now has Jake Bauers, Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow, Franmil Reyes, Tyler Naquin (who is recovering from ACL surgery), Bradley Zimmer, Daniel Johnson, Delino DeShields, Greg Allen and now Santana on the 40-man roster. For those keeping track at home, that’s a grand total of 10 outfielders. So how can Santana be an improvement over the alternatives?
“You will probably see guys almost play every position,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “You’re not going to see Reyes play center or Domingo. But you’ll see Greg Allen move around and play all three, you’ll see Luplow at least play two and he’ll probably play a few in center. The idea is we don’t want to get to the end of Spring Training and go, ‘Man, we eliminated that possibility because we didn’t do something.’ We’ll try to cover all that. I mean as we’ve learned quickly, things don’t always go according to plan. So if they don’t, you don’t want to close off options because you forgot to do something.”
The team is certainly not lacking options, but it was missing outfielders with big bats. Reyes will play a big role in the middle of the order, and while the Indians are hoping for a more consistent and powerful season from third baseman José Ramírez, they were still missing some pop. Santana should fill that need.
According to Steamer projections on FanGraphs, Santana is predicted to slash .248/.335/.441 with 15 homers, 50 RBIs and a 101 wRC+ in 89 games. Even with nearly a month-long stint on the injured list in 2019 due to right elbow inflammation, the 27-year-old launched 21 homers and knocked in 69 runs, posting a .770 OPS and 107 wRC+ in 121 games for the Mariners.
“It’s an offensive bat, right-handed power, which is not easy to find,” Francona said. “Where it ends up fitting, we don’t know all of that yet…but it’s enough of a bat -- pretty potent bat at times -- that we thought it was worth signing him. We were excited to do it and see where he fits. We don’t know yet where that all fits together, but we’ll figure that all out.”
Santana was projected to make $4.4 million in arbitration this offseason according to MLB Trade Rumors, which prompted Seattle to non-tender him in December.
When he entered free agency, Santana became a solid, affordable option for an Indians team trying its best to keep its budget as tight as possible. But because he’s been known to struggle defensively, he may become more of a regular designated hitter than an everyday outfielder.
According to Statcast, Santana ranked second-to-last in Outfield Outs Above Average (-13) among 92 qualified outfielders in 2019. He also led all players who played at least 850 innings in the outfield last year with 12 errors. Leury Garcia of the White Sox and Ramon Laureano of the A’s both had the second most with seven.
The Indians are in a similar position with Reyes, who had an OAA of -2 last year, though he spent the majority of the second half of the season as a DH when he arrived from the Padres. Reyes knew he would get an opportunity to showcase his defense this spring, so he took it upon himself to lose 18 pounds over the offseason to become more agile in the field. If it pays off, it’s more likely the Indians will opt for Reyes in the field over Santana. An Opening Day outfield could consist of DeShields, Mercado and Reyes with Santana as the DH.
“I’m comfortable in whatever situation they want me to be a part of,” Santana said. “I just want to prepare myself and be healthy for whatever I may do.”