Santana willing to do what Tribe needs to win

February 20th, 2016

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Every spring, Indians manager Terry Francona calls each of his players into his office for a meeting. With a member of the front office and often a coach present, the group will go over goals and expectations for Spring Training and the coming season.

Carlos Santana is scheduled to sit down with Francona on Monday morning, and one of the topics they will undoubtedly discuss is where Santana fits in the lineup. With veteran Mike Napoli signed and added to the fold, Santana could see more time as a designated hitter than a first baseman this year.

Santana said he is ready for whatever role Francona has in mind.

"I'm preparing for everything, every situation," Santana said on Saturday morning. "Whatever the manager needs me to do, I'm prepared. Napoli is a veteran player. I think he can help the team. We're fine. I'm fine. When we start the season, what's important is helping my team and playing every day, wherever I can."

• Spring:Tickets | Ballpark | 40-man roster | NRIs

Right now, Cleveland views the 29-year-old Santana as a DH first and a first baseman second. The Indians feel that Napoli can consistently provide better defense, while also offering some right-handed power in the middle of the lineup. Santana -- a switch-hitter with a mix of patience and power -- will also be in the lineup every day, but Napoli's arrival could not only knock him off the diamond, but out of the cleanup spot.

Santana's preference is to remain in the field, if possible. He has voiced displeasure in the past about serving as a full-time DH and he reiterated that stance once again on Saturday. After making that clear once again, though, Santana quickly emphasized that he trusts Francona and is willing to do what the manager asks of him.

"I don't like to play DH too much, because I like staying in the game," Santana said. "And I think I'm too young for that. I like to play any position, but whatever decision he makes is fine. The manager is going to try to play the best lineup."

For now, Francona's plan is to monitor both players in the field this spring.

"I've kind of told them both," Francona said. "Kind of the way I look at it is, if they were the manager, I bet you they'd probably play the best defensive first baseman. That would be my guess. So, that's probably what I should do."

The Indians have floated the idea internally about trying Santana's hand in left field this spring -- given that Michael Brantley is sidelined with a right shoulder issue -- but Francona has yet to discuss that possibility with the first baseman. That might also be broached during their sit-down on Monday morning.

After a down year in 2015, Santana said he dedicated himself to working out for the entirety of the offseason for the first time in his career. Instead of spending the whole winter in his native Dominican Republic, Santana rented a place in Miami, where he trained with Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez and Yasiel Puig, among other players. Santana's only break was a short trip to the D.R. to see family.

Santana shed some weight, got rid of the back issue that plagued him last summer and has arrived to camp this spring with some renewed confidence.

"This was the hardest I've worked in the offseason," Santana said. "Miggy told me to believe in myself. He told me I have great ability and talent and he said he's confident in me. Miggy and J.D., they talked to me a lot and told me not to worry about what decisions the team makes in the offseason."

In 154 games last season, Santana hit .231 with 19 home runs, 29 doubles, 85 RBIs, 108 walks and a .752 OPS. Only Joey Votto, Bryce Harper, Paul Goldschmidt and Jose Bautista had better walk rates than Santana. It was not an awful showing by any means, but it was a subpar season by his standards. Santana's .395 slugging percentage was the lowest of his career, and came after he hit 27 homers with a .427 SLG in '14.

Santana said he fought through a back ailment for much of the second half, though he did not say anything publicly about the problem until the final day of the regular season.

"I don't like making excuses like that, but Tito knew," said Santana, referring to Francona. "Everybody knew. I wasn't playing 100 percent because of my back, but I like to play. If I can't play, I can't play, but I tried to keep playing no matter what."

Now, Santana just wants to do what he can to help the Indians contend.

"I have a big opportunity here," said Santana, who will earn $8.25 million in '16 and has a team option worth $12 million for '17. "I've been preparing for everything. This year is a new year, and I'm working hard. I'm 100 percent good right now."