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Santana an intriguing leadoff option for Francona

Slugger's ability to get on base gives manager reason to consider alternative lineups
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is a thought that Indians manager Terry Francona cannot shake. For a couple of years now, Francona has pondered the possibility of pulling switch-hitter Carlos Santana out of the cleanup spot and placing him in the leadoff role.

Unprompted, Francona brought up Santana as a potential leadoff man once again on Tuesday morning, following the Tribe's first official full-squad workout. The manager said he has not thought too much about lineup scenarios for his team, but added that he still thinks about what Santana could look like atop the batting order.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There is a thought that Indians manager Terry Francona cannot shake. For a couple of years now, Francona has pondered the possibility of pulling switch-hitter Carlos Santana out of the cleanup spot and placing him in the leadoff role.

Unprompted, Francona brought up Santana as a potential leadoff man once again on Tuesday morning, following the Tribe's first official full-squad workout. The manager said he has not thought too much about lineup scenarios for his team, but added that he still thinks about what Santana could look like atop the batting order.

"The one thing I've thought about is maybe Santana leading off," Francona said. "But, it's only a thought. Because of his skillset, I think he'd be maybe one of the better leadoff hitters in the game. I know it seems a little unique, maybe out of the box, and you've got to have somebody that's going to hit cleanup, too. I don't know if I'd do it or not, but it's something I've thought about."

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This is not entirely new territory for Francona.

In 2006, when Francona was managing the Red Sox, he used the on-base-oriented Kevin Youkilis for 95 games as Boston's leadoff man. Youkilis -- a cleanup hitter for most of his career -- posted an .815 OPS out of the first spot of the Red Sox order that season. It was a short-lived experiment, though, considering Youkilis only appeared in the leadoff spot three other times in his career.

Tweet from @MLBastian: "I'm preparing for everything, every situation." Santana willing to do what Tribe needs https://t.co/TqxYho53vH pic.twitter.com/SCVAe27sJh

Santana has been criticized for his production as Cleveland's fourth hitter, especially when his slugging percentage dropped to a career-low .395 last season. Santana still launched 19 homers and knocked in 85 RBIs, while drawing 108 walks and posting a .357 on-base percentage. In fact, Santana is the only qualified Major Leaguer with at least 90 walks and a .350 OBP or better in each of the past five years.

It was that kind of on-base ability that prompted Francona to try Santana as a No. 2 hitter for a spell last summer.

"The problem was he didn't like it," Francona said. "I know you can't let your nine guys dictate where they hit, but if they're hitting in a spot where it's affecting them in a negative way, and I have the ability to change it, I'd be kind of silly not to. He just wasn't comfortable."

Santana's place in the lineup is not the only question right now for the Tribe.

Given that Michael Brantley (right shoulder surgery in November) might not be ready for Opening Day, Francona likely will need to shuffle the top four spots of his order. Jason Kipnis, who served as a leadoff man a year ago, might fill in for Brantley as the No. 3 hitter. If Santana is not in the cleanup spot, first baseman Mike Napoli could take that job. Shortstop Francisco Lindor and outfielder Rajai Davis could be in the top part of the lineup, too.

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For now, Francona is not scribbling down any possible lineup combinations.

"It's kind of a waste of time, in my opinion," Francona said. "If Brant's not playing, you kind of need to figure out the trickle-down effect. When we get to a couple weeks to go in camp, you'll start to see some guys hitting in places."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cleveland Indians, Carlos Santana