CLEVELAND -- Carlos Santana took the expected step of declining the Indians' one-year qualifying offer on Thursday, but that does not end Cleveland's bid to keep its free-agent first baseman. Santana simply made it clear that he will continue to weigh his options, which still very much include the Tribe.
Santana's decision to reject the one-year offer worth $17.4 million was more of a formality than anything else, as the free-agent is one of the more attractive first basemen on the open market this offseason and stands to get a multiyear contract. From the Indians' side of the equation, extending the qualifying offer was a way to net a compensatory pick in the 2018 Draft in the event that Santana signs with a new team.
Under the latest collective bargaining agreement, Cleveland would be eligible for a compensation Draft pick between the first round and Competitive Balance Round A should Santana sign a deal worth at least $50 million with another team. If the contract is under $50 million, the Indians' compensation pick would come after Competitive Balance Round B, which follows the second round.
• The qualifying offer rules, explained
Cleveland's other premier free-agent hitter, Jay Bruce, was not eligible for a qualifying offer because he was traded in the middle of last season. It seems unlikely that the Indians will be able to re-sign both sluggers, but the team has maintained that it has interest in trying to keep at least one of Santana or Bruce. General manager Mike Chernoff reiterated that stance this week at the GM Meetings in Orlando, Fla.
"Both guys made tremendous impacts," Chernoff said. "If they can fit together, that's going to depend on all the other pieces, but we have interest in both players and would love to have both guys back, because of the contributions that they made."
• Hot Stove Tracker
As Chernoff hinted, the other pieces in place on Cleveland's roster create a complicated puzzle at the moment.
The clear hole is at first base, where Santana was Gold Glove-nominated and a Wilson Defensive Player of the Year Award winner this past season, while providing power and on-base ability in the heart of the lineup. Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion could slide over to first base for the Tribe, or the club might consider Michael Brantley or Lonnie Chisenhall as internal possibilities for the position. Bruce, while a right fielder by trade, also has limited experience at first.
When the Indians acquired Bruce in August, the need for an outfielder was greater because Brantley and Chisenhall were both sidelined with injuries. Brantley and Chisenhall are not only a part of the 2018 plans, but Cleveland also has to determine if Jason Kipnis will remain in the outfield. With Bradley Zimmer expected to return in center, left field would be the most logical spot for Kipnis. That is where talk of Brantley moving to first or DH begins to pick up steam.
All of those factors make it hard to imagine how Santana and Bruce could fit into the roster picture without additional moves to create more flexibility.
"He was a perfect fit at the time that we got him," Chernoff said of Bruce. "I think as we look ahead, there could be different moving pieces, but we would love to potentially bring both [Santana and Bruce] back."
Santana, who will turn 32 in April, hit .259/.363/.455 with 23 home runs, 37 doubles, 79 RBIs, 88 walks and 90 runs in 154 games this past season. That showing was similar Santana's production over the past seven years, in which he hit .249/.365/.445 with an average of 24 homers, 32 doubles, 81 RBIs, 98 walks and 79 runs in 153 games per season.
With first baseman Eric Hosmer also seeking a lucrative deal on the free-agent market, teams will surely be looking at Santana as a potential alternative. A report by MLB Network insider Jon Heyman indicated that as many as 10 teams have already experessed interest in Santana. According to multiple reports, some of Santana's suitors beyond the Indians include the Red Sox, Angels, Mariners, Mets and Phillies.
At the end of the season, Santana said he hoped to stay with the Indians.
"I don't know what's in my future. I'm hopeful that I can come back," Santana said. "This is my house. This is my family. I know everybody. Everybody knows me. So, we'll see."