CLEVELAND -- The Indians have found their solution for first base. On the same day the Carlos Santana era ended with him trying on his new Phillies jersey, Cleveland reached an agreement on a two-year pact with free agent Yonder Alonso.On Wednesday night, sources told MLB.com that Alonso's deal with
CLEVELAND -- The Indians have found their solution for first base. On the same day the Carlos Santana era ended with him trying on his new Phillies jersey, Cleveland reached an agreement on a two-year pact with free agent Yonder Alonso.
On Wednesday night, sources told MLB.com that Alonso's deal with the Indians will be worth $16 million guaranteed and will include a $9 million vesting option (or $1 million buyout) for 2020. The contract is pending a physical, which is scheduled for Thursday. The club has not confirmed any agreement. Once complete, Alonso will take over at first base, where Santana played for the past few seasons before leaving via free agency this offseason.
In Alonso, the Indians are getting a veteran who enjoyed a career year in 2017, when he was named an All-Star for the first time. Especially during a standout first half, Alonso was one of the faces of the so-called "air ball revolution" due to changes in his swing that led to a spike in power numbers. While his production declined in the second half, the first baseman's overall showing was unlike any of his previous campaigns.
Between stints with the A's and Mariners last season, Alonso hit .266 with 28 home runs, 22 doubles, 67 RBIs, 72 runs, 68 walks and an .866 OPS in 142 games. His 133 OPS+ indicates he was 33 percent better than league average as a hitter. In the previous seven seasons combined, the left-handed-hitting Alonso had a .269/.334/.387 slash line with a 103 OPS+ and had never hit more than nine homers in a year.
The biggest reason behind the change was a dramatic increase in Alonso's fly-ball rate.
Overall, Alonso had a 43.2 percent fly-ball rate in '17, compared to 33.3 percent in '16 and 34.3 percent for his career. That increase was driven by a stellar start to the season with Oakland. From Opening Day through June 22, when Alonso's season OPS was at least 1.000 for the last time last summer, he hit .296 with a .611 slugging percentage and a 50.7 percent fly-ball rate in 234 plate appearances. Over the final 78 games (287 plate appearances), Alonso hit .242 with a .411 slugging percentage and a 37.2 percent fly-ball rate.
It is also worth noting that Alonso performed much better against right-handed pitching (.282 average and .900 OPS) than left-handers (.181 average and .679 OPS) last season. For his career, he has hit .277 (.771 OPS) against righties and .234 (.652 OPS) against lefties. That will give Indians manager Terry Francona something else to think about as he constructs his lineups.
Santana, who was a fixture in Cleveland's lineup for the past seven seasons, was offered a one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer by the Indians early on this winter, but he turned down that proposal. It was reported the Tribe offered him a three-year, $36 million contract prior to the free-agent period as well, but Santana wanted to test the free-agent waters. In the end, Santana reeled in a three-year contract worth $60 million guaranteed from Philadelphia.
With Alonso joining the fold, Francona can also start to map out his defensive alignment.
The deal effectively puts a halt to the talk of potentially moving left fielder Michael Brantley to first base. Now Brantley can focus solely on his rehab from the right ankle surgery he had in October without worrying about a position change on top of it. Lonnie Chisenhall can stay in right field rather than concern himself with first base, too. Edwin Encarnacion can stay in his designated-hitter role, while offering a backup for first.
There is still the matter of where Jason Kipnis will fit into the defensive equation. If Brantley's comeback lingers beyond Opening Day, then Francona will have a little more freedom to play Kipnis in left field or at second base. The Indians prefer Jose Ramirez at second, but he could slide back to third if Kipnis returned to the infield. Yandy Diaz also presents an option for the corner infield or corner outfield spots.
Francona still has plenty of time to sort through all those scenarios, some of which may yet be solved by more winter maneuvering by the Tribe's front office. For now, Cleveland has filled a major hole on the infield by agreeing to a contract with Alonso.
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
After producing just 39 home runs with a .721 OPS from 2010-16, Alonso found notable success with an altered approach last year. Posting career-high fly-ball (43.2 percent) and hard-hit (36 percent) rates, the first baseman finished with 28 home runs and an .866 OPS over 521 plate appearances. Although his exposure to lefties may be limited given his lifetime .652 OPS in those matchups, the slugger will warrant late-round attention in 15-team leagues on the hope that he can deliver at least 20 homers and 70 RBIs as part of an Indians lineup that ranked sixth in baseball with 818 runs scored in '17.
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.