LAS VEGAS -- Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff had their hands full at the airport in Las Vegas, waiting to board their flight back to Cleveland. They sat at their gate, working on a blockbuster trade, but not one that involved their starting
LAS VEGAS -- Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff had their hands full at the airport in Las Vegas, waiting to board their flight back to Cleveland. They sat at their gate, working on a blockbuster trade, but not one that involved their starting pitchers.
The Indians acquired Carlos Santana from the Seattle Mariners in exchange for Edwin Encarnacion and cash considerations and sent Yandy Diaz and Cole Sulser to Tampa Bay for Jake Bauers in part of the three-way deal that was finalized as Antonetti and Chernoff were stepping onto the plane.
"We needed Commissioner's approval on the cash component, and that was the last thing we got," Antonetti said. "That was this morning right before we got on the plane. Or as we were getting on the plane."
After donning an Indians uniform for his first eight years in the Majors, Santana will have a homecoming in 2019. The 32-year-old spent his '18 season in Philadelphia after being signed as a free agent last December. The infielder slashed .229/.352/.414 last year with 24 homers and 86 RBIs. He was traded by the Phillies to the Mariners on Dec. 3 for shortstop Jean Segura, right-hander Juan Nicasio and lefty James Pazos. Because he was in the air, Antonetti had to wait until after the flight to call Santana, though the two communicated via text throughout the flight.
"I mean, we have a long history with him," Antonetti said. "We know what makes him tick, we know all of the things he brings to a team and a clubhouse, so that does help."
The Indians have multiple decisions to make at first base. Bauers played mainly first and some outfield for the Rays last season. After getting the callup to the big leagues in June, Bauers, 23, hit .201 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs in 388 plate appearances. The rookie could take first, but could also be a much-needed option in the Indians outfield to fill the vacancies left after the team lost multiple key outfielders to free agency.
"Jake's pretty special to us," Rays senior vice president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom said. "Our high opinion of him doesn't change. He's a competitor who can hit, and he's a pretty good defensive first baseman. We like him a lot. The Indians are getting a hell of a player, and it's going to be fun to watch his career progress."
"We like the fact that [Bauers] can play both [first and the outfield]," Antonetti said. "We feel he's an above-average defender at first, but also has some experience in the outfield and can also play out there if that's where we have an opportunity. So that versatility was an attractive element for us in addition to what we think he has the ability to develop into offensively."
Another option for the Tribe would be to split time between Yonder Alonso and Santana at first and designated hitter with Bauers in the outfield. Dealing Diaz to the Rays opens third base for Jose Ramirez, with Jason Kipnis settling back in at second base. Santana, who made 19 appearances at third last season, could also fill at times. However, the final roster is anything but set, and Kipnis also has gotten starts in the outfield and could again. The Indians also could use Alonso in a trade to help fill the vacancies in the rest of the roster, especially the bullpen.
"A lot of it depends upon what the final construction of our roster might be, but both Carlos and Jake do have some versatility," Antonetti said of Alonso's role in 2019. "So we could configure the roster in a variety of different ways. But there's still a lot of offseason left. I'm not sure this will be the final roster that we have going into Spring Training."
Diaz, 27, appeared in 39 games for Cleveland in 2018, hitting .312 with 15 RBIs. Antonetti said earlier this week that the team would feel comfortable with the young infielder getting over 500 plate appearances next year, but now the acquisitions of Santana and Bauers bring both experience and flexibility to the roster, respectively.
"First off, I think we're acquiring two players that we feel will help us next year," Antonetti said. "Both Carlos and Jake are productive Major League players that not only contribute but enhance the versatility of our roster. Beyond that, it adds some payroll flexibility for us in 2019."
The Indians' payroll has been one of the most discussed topics this offseason. Dealing Encarnacion erases the team's largest contract with the designated hitter to make $21.67 million in 2019 with Santana receiving $17 million.
According to a report by MLB Network Insider Ken Rosenthal, the Indians will receive $6 million from the Mariners to help with Santana's two-year contract of $35 million (including a $500,000 buyout in 2021). With Santana's '19 earnings and the extra cash considerations, the Indians will have a little more wiggle room with their payroll for next season.
Seattle will also receive Cleveland's 77th pick of the 2019 Competitive Balance Draft.
Mandy Bell is a reporter for MLB.com.