Over the last seven years, Tribe skippers Manny Acta and Terry Francona have had the luxury of being able to pencil Carlos Santana’s name into the lineup card. Not the flashiest name, but a foundational lineup piece. Players who give you 20 to 30 home runs and 90 walks are not easily acquired. Throw in some stellar glove work at first base, and Santana’s value may have priced its way out of Cleveland.
I know, I know… this offseason has already seen the departure of pitching coaches Mickey Callaway and Jason Bere. Additionally, the Indians may decide to pass on Michael Brantley’s option and Jason Kipnis is an intriguing trade candidate. The old core that started the rebuild is in question. The most consistently healthy and productive player of that group, Carlos Santana, would be the toughest loss to placate.
If there is any silver lining to be identified in a potential Carlos Santana departure, it is related to the first base market atmosphere of 2016. As MLB teams allocated their free agency resources differently, viable first base candidates went unsigned for extended periods of the offseason window. It is what allowed Edwin Encarnacion to fall into the laps of the Tribe front office. Looking beyond internal options to fill the first base role, there are some intriguing free agents that could wind up in Cleveland.
The 28-year-old Kansas City Royals staple is hitting free agency for the first time following the most productive season of his career. It does not appear that a reunion with Kansas City is in the works but a date with Cleveland is even less likely. This is probably a good thing for Tribe fans because the first baseman has seemingly priced himself out of any surplus value. Though his 2015 and 2017 campaigns were strong, he was not quite even a replacement level player in 2014 and 2016. The story here is his batted ball profile. Over the past four years, approximately 55% of his batted balls have been hit on the ground. Failure to get the ball in the air leads to far more variable results. Hosmer will net a contract with an average annual value in excess of 20 million while boasting a floor that is much lower than other candidates.
The long-time New York Met is past the age 30 plateau and less than inspiring with a glove in his hand. There are a few redeeming qualities, though. Duda is only a few years removed from wRC+ marks in excess of 130. Despite being serviceable enough to warrant a trade to the contending Rays in 2016 and being a member of the more-inviting 30 homer club, there are more inviting names than Lucas Duda on the market. However, the Indians would be wise to do their due diligence here. Duda will be one of the more cost-efficient replacements for Santana. A career-low BABIP paired with a career-high ISO makes for an intriguing bounce-back candidate with a baseline similar to Mike Napoli’s 2016 output in a Tribe uniform.
If pristine defense is your thing, Mitch Moreland is an intriguing candidate. You can count on 20 homers, but his plate discipline leaves a lot to be desired. The plate profile is below average as a whole, with only one above average output over the past five seasons. Peripherals do not offer much hope for a better hitter underneath, either. It’s likely we know what Mitch Moreland is at this point, and that list does not have the makeup of good characteristics to replace Carlos Santana.
He was an all-star caliber first baseman for the Oakland Athletics in the first half of 2017. The second half was a much different story. There are some intriguing facets of this avenue, notably a plus walk rate and high ISO style player. If the Indians were to pursue Alonso, a platoon might be in order, as he notably cannot hit left-handed pitching. If the market broke down enough to call upon an Alonso signing, the Indians could pair him with Yandy Diaz and limit his exposure to southpaws. Alonso is an intriguing option in some ways, but delving into platoon scenarios with your first base bat is a dangerous proposition.
If the Indians are to be without Carlos Santana’s services in 2018, Morrison is worth a hard look. He exploded onto the scene in 2017 with 38 homers and 81 walks. These easily surpassed previous career highs in these categories. The question is whether or not his slash line of .246/.353/.516 with 130 wRC+ is a sustainable profile for him.
An increased walk rate was directly a result of slightly better plate discipline, chasing 3% fewer non-strikes. He took on an all-or-nothing approach at the plate, posting his highest whiff percentage of his career. This approach paid dividends, as he turned a small portion of his soft and medium contact into hard contact.
Looking at his batted ball profile, it seems as though Morrison is a member of the fly ball movement. The most intriguing part of Morrison’s breakout is that he turned eleven percent of his batted balls from ground balls into fly balls. This seems like too large of an adjustment to be attributed to simple variance. If we dig a little deeper and look at the launch angle buckets (below), it is readily apparent that Morrison has optimized his swing to produce more effective contact.
Losing Carlos Santana would impair the Indians offense drastically. The Indians should be ready to offer him a three to four year deal in the neighborhood of 15 to 17 million annually to retain his services. If that is not possible, Logan Morrison might make the most sense in what should be another diluted first base market.