The necessary formality of the qualifying-offer dance between the Indians and Carlos Santana appears complete, with FanRag Sports' Jon Heyman reporting the not-at-all-surprising news Monday that Santana will turn down the Indians' one-year, $17.4 million offer. The Indians had made the offer to ensure they recoup Draft pick compensation should Santana sign elsewhere, and there was never a serious expectation that Santana would accept it.
But that doesn't mean the Tribe is done with Santana. Far from it. On the first day of the General Managers Meetings in Orlando, Fla., on Monday, Indians GM Mike Chernoff said the club is interested in retaining both Santana and outfielder Jay Bruce (who was not eligible to receive a qualifying offer because he was traded during the season).
But Santana currently seems the easier positional fit for the Indians' roster, with the club having exercised left fielder Michael Brantley's $12 million option and exposed second baseman Jason Kipnis to the outfield. Center fielder Bradley Zimmer (broken hand) and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall (calf) were both banged up by the end of '17 but should enter 2018 healthy.
"As we look at the Bruce situation, we really targeted him when both Chisenhall and Brantley were out and we knew we had a need for an outfielder," Chernoff said. "So [Bruce] was a perfect fit at the time that we got him. As we look ahead, there could be different moving pieces. But we would love to bring both [Bruce and Santana] back."
Beyond the career .810 OPS and 121 OPS+ he's compiled, Santana's glovework at the first-base position in 2017 was the best of his career. He was a finalist for the American League Gold Glove that went to Eric Hosmer, and won a Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award. That improved defensive skill set adds to his free-agent value as a productive switch-hitter.
The Indians have expressed openness to the idea of giving Brantley, who has battled shoulder and ankle injuries that have required a total of three surgeries in the last two years, some reps at first base to protect his body. But the general expectation is that Brantley will fully recover from his November ankle surgery.
"We feel really confident that that surgery has really successful outcomes," Chernoff said. "[Brantley] should be in games by Spring Training. We expect him to be healthy for the large majority of the season."
If Brantley is a go in the outfield, that would lessen the need to bring back Bruce. For now, there are plenty of unknowns with the position-player side of the Tribe roster, with Kipnis' spot on the field among them.
"Kipnis' flexibility, I think, is an asset in a lot of ways," Chernoff said. "The way he acclimated to the outfield after never playing in the outfield previously in his Major League career was pretty impressive to see and a huge credit to him and the type of guy that he is. So it creates a little bit of complexity in how we piece the roster together, but it's actually an asset to have that kind of flexibility. We can do a lot of different things."
The free agencies of Santana -- whose agent will reportedly meet with the Red Sox this week -- and Bruce add to that complexity. Both from financial and roster perspectives, it would be difficult -- if not impossible -- for the Indians to bring back both players without parting with somebody else in the trade market. But bringing back one of them is not at all out of the realm of possibility, and Santana's reported rejection of the Tribe's qualifying offer was hardly the last those two sides will hear from each other.