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The Sunday Drive with a Santana shift, MLB Money and a Waiters surge

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The Sunday Drive is generally a co-op piece between the writers here at C.S.I. On occasion, one of us will write the entire piece, or the majority of the piece, but the fun of it for us is that we try and connect them between all the writers. This is clearly still a work in progress, but I promise you that it will continue to be better, and hopefully turn into something that you’ll keep coming back to on Sunday morning, while your eating your Sunday brunch and drinking your morning coffee. We aren’t trying to become something we’re not…

…we’re fans, the guys next door, the guys sitting at the corner of the bar talking sports, just like you…

…let’s get driving.

The offseason has been an interesting one, even if the Cleveland Indians haven’t really done a whole lot to excite the North Coast. It’s a tough sell to a group of fans that were spoiled heading into the 2013 season with not one, but two multi-year, multi-million dollar deals. The Indians managed to re-image and re-invigorate their baseball team in one offseason, by bringing in the right manager, and supplementing him with the right mix of players.

They were aggressive with their approach, and they were aggressive with their money.Perhaps they were equally aggressive prior to 2007 in theory, although there weren’t any MAJOR additions to the 2006 club that disappointed a bit after a phenomenal 2005 campaign.

The Indians traded for Josh Barfield that year, and signed the real Roberto Hernandez as a potential set-up guy at the tail of his career. They signed Joe Borowski to be their closer, and David Dellucci to play in the outfield. They signed Keith Foulke as a potential closer option, and Trot Nixon to play some outfield and to DH a bit. At the trade deadline, they traded for Kenny Lofton

They weren’t splashy moves, but they weren’t cheap ones either. They all obviously didn’t work out, but the Indians were clearly trying to regain their footing after 2006.

It worked. Maybe not because of all those moves, but the approach was certainly there.

In 2007, the Indians came a game short from the World Series, and the Red Sox, who came back from a 3-1 lead to beat them, swept a Rockies team that likely wouldn’t have fared all that well against the Indians either.

The Indians were loaded with veterans, and needed one more season to get it right.

What did the Indians do in during the 2008 season? They drafted Brian Barton in the Rule 5 draft. They traded for Jamey Carroll.  They signed Rick Bauer and Masahide Kobayashi. They signed Matt Ginter, Danny Sandoval and Andy Gonzalez. They signed Jorge Julio, Brendan Donnelly, Jason Tyner and Craig Breslow.

Underwhelmed yet?

Why talk about that 2007-2008 hot stove season that everyone talks about so much because the Indians wasted an opportunity?

At the end of 2007, the Indians payroll was sitting at $71,900,000, and they were 22nd in the league.

Thanks to escalating contracts, and now a whole lot else (as you could see), the Indians payroll jumped to $76 million, and they jumped up to 16th. They were clearly at their budget that season, and they were also put behind a market that was excessive with regards to multi-year deals.

I’ll get to that in a second.

At the end of the 2013 season, the Indians payroll was sitting right at $85 million, give or take a few dollars, and they were 20th in the league, again, give or take a team one way or another.

Where does that leave them this year?

That’s when the comparisons get scary.

In 2007 and 2008, multi-year contracts were at an all-time high, according to MLBTraderumors. The average long-term deal went for 3.13 years, and $32 million. Jump forward to 2013 and 2014, and the average multi-year deals signed so far this year is for 3.09 years, and $33 ½ million.

You can see the similarity.

Some of that has to do with the market, as baseball’s economy took a bit of a hit putting a kibosh on some of the long term deals (they wouldn’t average over 3 years between 07/08 and this year), and some of that has to do with the revenue boom thanks to the new TV deal this year.

Teams were signing shorter deals, and anywhere from 10-20 more deals were signed in those middle years.

Now, only 55 players have signed any sort of guaranteed deal in baseball this year, so there’s a LONG way to go before this season’s number is squared away, but if it continues to play out in a similar manner, the Indians could find themselves in a similar boat as their 2008 team.

They just won’t have the ammunition to pull of any sort of meaningful free agent deal.

The question then becomes will the Indians want to spend over their threshold regardless, or can they work out a trade in which they lose some salary, and take some on.

I realize from a fiscal perspective, that a much, MUCH closer look needs to be taken with regards to the salaries (including one-year) from ’07-’14, but after a cursory look at this point, there’s similarities that can’t be ignored.

Here’s the thing.

The market could come back to the Indians, as teams clearly have to have spent a lot of their war chest, up to this point. I still think the Indians, likely sitting at $81 or $82 million, have more money to play with than most conservative thinkers believe. We’ll see what happens in the coming weeks, but the Indians do have some interesting in house candidates that could save them some money.

I’m excessively optimistic about Carlos Santana playing third base. Alright, I’m likely overly optimistic, and setting up unrealistic expectations. So sue me.

Santana made his debut at third in his first Winter League game on Friday for Leones del Escogido, going 1-for-4, with a run. In his second game, on Saturday night, he followed that up with a two error game. Now, the catch and throw error came on the same play, so perhaps we shouldn’t look too much into the number two.

Here’s what I can tell you having watched him a bit last night: he doesn’t look horrible out there. Now, looks can be deceiving.

With that said, it should be an amusing winter run full of rumors and innuendos for the Indians’ former (?) starting catcher. There will be little to no footage of him in the Dominican League, so the vast abundance of the knowledge of how he’s playing will be 100% from folks making it up, and comments made by the Indians brass.

If he makes an error, the sky will be falling. If he doesn’t, he’ll look like Brooks Robinson. That’s the nature of the beast in today’s age of instant notification.

Back in the day, you may hear a rumbling or two in the Sunday papers about the Winter Leagues, or the offseason trials, but that day is long gone.

None of that really matters now though.

So what are we really looking at with regards to Carlos Santana playing third base? There really isn’t a lot to go on though, is there.

You can spout off about what he did for 58 games over four-ish seasons in the minors if you want to. He played a grand total of 58 ballgames at third, with 52 of the aforementioned games coming before he turned 21. It doesn’t look very good if you do that.

He had 17 errors in 94 chances.

You can put whatever weight you want to in that, and I suppose there is merit, since the Dodgers moved him from third to catcher full-time. I’m guessing that’s not a move that you make if you think the guy can play third. If you move a player from third to catcher, you can gain some value, or at the very least, keep some value, depending on what metric you use to evaluate it.

But seriously, what are we looking at really, if Carlos Santana moves to third base in any form?

I suppose the fake ceiling would be that Santana turns himself into a full time, solid fielding third sacker. He’d be a guy that gets the most games at third, and Lonnie Chisenhall would turn into more of a fill piece, for when Santana DH’s or plays first.

Now, I did say “fake” ceiling, because I don’t think anyone truly expects Santana to turn himself into that type of third baseman.

What’s the floor for Santana?

We watched Mark Reynolds play third for the Indians last year, so seriously, how much worse can he be?

It truly is hard to gauge how good or bad he’ll be based on any real metrics. You could utilize his defense at first base I suppose, but I don’t think that anyone’s going to measure his .993 career fielding percentage as the true statement of what he’ll do at third.

Of course, if you look at his UZR at first, that’s another story, as that -6.7 doesn’t look all that appealing.

I’m not a big fan of UZR (Can be tremendously deceptive when using a one year sample.), but I can’t fathom that Santana’s range or double play capability is going to grow in a move to third, let alone his error-rate compared to the league-average.

Of course, it’s hard to really predict how good or bad he’ll be with an entire offseason of work, with both Mike Sarbaugh, as well as his Winter League team. But seriously, a couple of months are not going to make the player.

So chances are that whatever Carlos Santana is going to be at third base, he won’t be anywhere near a full-time option this year, if ever.

But there are some interesting factors consider, and hopefully, our resident sabrmetrics guru, Michael Hattery can look into this a bit in the coming weeks.

I have to believe that the Indians pitching staff is a benefit to Santana playing third base.

Hear me out.

The Indians rotation, as of today, projects to be Justin Masterson, Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and take your pick from Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer or Josh Tomlin. You could probably throw a couple more names in there, but those are your likely candidates.

What do they all have in common?

They are all right handed pitchers.

What does that mean?

I have to imagine that teams that face the Indians will put together line-ups that have as much solid left-handed hitters as they can possibly get. While this is not a noticeable factor on a game to game perspective, this pitching staff, including one lefty starter which is unlikely for next season, faced the third most left-handed hitters last season at 3079. Whereas, they faced the third least right-handed hitters at 3075.

Of course not every left-handed hitter is dead pull or even pull dominant, but it does place more of an emphasis on the right side of the infield, as lineups are stacked with left-handed hitters.

Secondly, is the idea of batted ball profile,  when categorizing batted ball tendency it looks like this: Ground ball dominant: Masterson, Kluber, Carrasco. Fly Ball dominant: Salazar, Tomlin with McAllister being fly ball prone as well but to a lesser extent.

The point being that the Indians are not a ground ball dominant staff, so with the heavily weighted right-handed staff coupled with the batted ball neutral rotation, a plus defensive third baseman is not integral to their success.

Of course, if the Tribe had five ground ball guys and perhaps a lefty or two this would be more of an issue but in this scenario they are protected. Furthermore, when discussing the athletic skill set of a third baseman, Santana is not entirely devoid. The typical description of an average defensive third baseman is player with quick reflexes, plus hands and an arm that can handle the distance.

Obviously, the arm is not an issue and as a receiver, one would expect him to be able to pick it. The reflexes are what cannot be predicted or perceived at this moment, how does he react of the bat, only time will tell. Lastly, are quick feet and overall athleticism; of course we have all seen Santana lumber to first base and asked “how could he possibly be athletic enough to play third?”, there will be a barehanded roller, maybe he can’t make that play.

However, if you can make the routine play, routinely, read the ball off the bat effectively, then a slightly below average defender at third base for 50-70 games should not be any sort of issue but rather a benefit of his offensive production at that position.

If that proves to be something more than a surface look at how teams approach the Indians, then this would help mask Santana a bit at third base, if he needs it. What I’m ultimately hoping for here is a player that is at least serviceable at the position. If Santana can be a “non-butcher” at third, then “masking” Santana at third base would only enhance his ability as a third baseman overall.

The added bonus to all of this Santana talk is that if he does provide the Indians with a new option at third, Lonnie Chisenhall could then become extremely valuable as a platoon-mate of sorts.

Santana absolutely crushed left-handed pitching last year. He hit .299, with an .864 OPS. He hit less home runs because he had a lot fewer at bats from that side of the plate obviously, but his slugging percentage was .049 better from that side of the plate.

If you delve into the metrics a bit, Santana is 15th in the league with a 33 wRC, and 27th in the league with a 142 wRC+ against left handed pitching. That’s not a bad option to have hitting opposite of Chisenhall, who is historically bad against lefties.

I’m not metrics-crazy about platoons like some of my sabr-friends, and that’s admittedly because of old school, nonsensical hatred of the Del-Michaels platoon from six years ago, but can absolutely see the value of what the Indians could do if this Santana-at-third-base-trial-works.

Perhaps the way to look at this for the Indians’ fans trying to take it all in is to take the word platoon out, and replace it with the trendy term, “cross-position” players. That’s not really metrics either, although teams like the metrics-heavy Rays have been maximizing production by utilizing handedness-platoons for the past several seasons.

In recent years, the Rays have utilized guys like Ben Zobrist as the ultimate platoon-mate, as he’s spent multiple games at second, right, left, short, center and first base.

In 2012, there was Jeff Keppinger, who played third, first and second in 27 games or more, and DHed in 20 games.

There was the Kelly Johnson who played second and left field, and Matt Joyce who played in left and right, and Sam Fuld, who did as well. David DeJesus played all three outfield positions when he came back, and Jose Molina and Jose Lobaton played in exactly 96 games each.

Their offense wasn’t as good as some of their offenses of year’s past, but they clearly had far less talent than those teams. What they could do as well as anyone is match-up against any team, and that gave them a chance to win every game.

The Indians are built in a very similar way, and if Santana can play third, it could be interesting. For one thing, it would keep the Indians’ valuable utility player Mike Aviles as just that.

Think about it.

At catcher, the Indians have Gomes, Santana and likely another candidate, if Santana does prove to be a third baseman.

At first base, the Indians have Santana, Swisher and Aviles. Perhaps down the road, you could even look at a guy like Jesus Aguilar, who is just shredding the ball in the Winter Leagues.

At second base, the Indians have Jason Kipnis, Mike Aviles and likely Jose Ramirez.

At shortstop, the Indians have Asdrubal Cabrera, Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor down the road.

At third base, the Indians would have Lonnie Chisenhall, Carlos Santana and Mike Aviles.

In left field, the Indians would have Michael Brantley, David Murphy, Drew Stubbs and Aviles in a pinch.

In center field, the Indians would have Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs, Michael Brantley and David Murphy.

In right field, the Indians would have Ryan Raburn, David Murphy, Nick Swisher and Brantley if they had to.

You could put Aviles in right as well.

Talk about options.

With Santana sticking to first and DH, they have a team that will do some damage to just about any team.

Add him to a third base platoon, and this offense makes the Rays’ platoons look relatively ordinary.

It goes to show you how big a signing David Murphy was, and how the Indians really are working the system in the correct manner, as far as small market teams go.

And if I say it once, I’ll say it again: Mike Aviles cannot be a starter on this team. His value is as a utility player. Starting him in a pinch is one thing. Starting him full time, or even in a platoon fashion as a regular third baseman next to Chisenhall isn’t ideal.

So spinning this full circle…how important could a Carlos Santana shift to third base be?

I know the naysayers will encircle this in full-force, and I get it, but suspend disbelief for just a second. Let’s say that Santana isn’t as bad as Mark Reynolds. Let’s say that he isn’t as bad as Miguel Cabrera. Let’s say that if he is just a wee bit better, on a team that will likely protect him a bit more on the left side of the field because of the right-handed pitching staff. If that just makes him average…how big is that?

Pretty Big.

What if Trevor Bauer turns into the prospect that he is/was/is? While the Santana issue may be one of abundance, the development of Trevor Bauer is one of necessity.

You can look at this in one of two ways, really.

The Indians need Bauer to be a solid pitcher for the simple fact that they have a hole in their rotation with the disappearance of both Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. Regardless of what you think of those two names, they swallowed up almost 400 innings last year.

Sure, Danny Salazar will theoretically take some of those innings, but let’s not forget that he pitched in over 50 innings last season, so it’s not as complete a total as you might thing.

The Tribe needs Bauer to fill that role sooner, rather than later.

If you can wheedle your way through all of Bauer’s alleged “eccentricities,” there’s a really, really good pitcher wrapped up in what’s clearly an enigma of issues. Of course, what are issues to the media truly don’t seem to be issues to the Indians. They have seemingly handled the situation with Bauer’s struggles about as well as an organization can.

They’ve given the high-IQ pitcher the room that he needs to do what he sees fit with his delivery.

The fact that they’ve given him that room and worked in conjunction with it, as opposed to forcing him into an untenable situation should fill in the blanks with how important he really is.

If you look at the mechanics and you look at the metrics, there’s just no way that he can rebound this year theoretically.

But what if he can?

That brings me to my second point of reasoning for the importance of the rebound.

There’s been scuttlebutt here and at other sites about whether or not Justin Masterson should be flipped for a youngster with control, or signed long-term. Many point to the small market model followed by those very same Tampa Bay Rays that are mentioned so often with regards to build/rebuild.

Regardless of what you feel about Masterson, the Indians pulled their “Rays-like” deal when they flipped Shin-Soo Choo for Bauer. On paper, it looked brilliant. The Indians ignored the signs that others had pointed to with regards to regression and stubbornness, but also realized that Choo had only a year left on his deal, and getting a top ten MLB prospect wasn’t to be scoffed at, whatever the reason.

They really need it to work.

Think about it this way.

Say Bauer figures the mechanics out in a way that keeps him an amenable piece to the rotation for the future. Then say, they spend the money they need to keep Masterson with the Indians over the next four seasons. That give the Indians a core of Salazar, Masterson, Kluber and Bauer, then toss in McAllister and the potential of Carrasco, and this rotation looks very different than it does now.

It’s cost effective.

It’s solid.

It’s young.

Most importantly…it’s controllable.

Even when the Indians sign a starter or two, and they will, Bauer is as important a piece to this team over the year as any. Last year, the Indians were supplemented throughout the year by Kluber and Salazar, amongst others. This year, there are no true candidates, and while admittedly, Bauer and Carrasco are both long-ish shots, if things align, they could provide that same push both in the short and the long-term.

A lot would have to happen, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility.

The conservative baseball minds will say it just won’t happen, but I’ve been around baseball long enough to know that you really never know when things click for certain people. If you get the right coach, and mature at the right time, what seems difficult can often become easy.

Regardless of my politics, I’ve always been an optimistic, liberal-minded baseball fan. I’m also an Indians’ fan, so take that for what it’s worth.

I’ve been around baseball too long and I’ve heard and seen too many stories of “out of the nowhere” players turning a corner to completely cross a guy like Bauer out, as well as Carrasco. They are longshots to be sure, but where there’s talent, there’s opportunity.

Let’s hope Bauer becomes that Rays-like move and can become a piece to the 2014 puzzle.

Dion Waiters was ready to go to war in defense of Anderson Varejao on Friday night. As the Cavs game at Orlando was about to come to a close, Anderson Varejao made a lay-up, and then got belted by Andrew Nicholson from Orlando.

Enter Dion Waiters, who went after Nicholson in defense of the Cavaliers’ elder statesman.

Waiters said all the right things to the Plain Dealer’s Mary Schmitt Boyer after the game.

“I just heard Andy scream,” he said. “I think it was a cheap shot. You just don’t do that. That’s Andy man. That’s my big brother, you know? I learned a lot from him and a person like that, you’ve got to have his back, no matter what. That’s everybody on the team. If anybody else was in that situation, I’d have done the same thing. It’s not about being the toughest guy on the team, it’s about having your teammates’ back and sticking up for one another. We say ’1-2-3 family’ [coming out of huddles], so at the end of the day, we’re all we got.”

Be truthful.

Raise your hand if you thought you’d hear Dion Waiters say anything like that, or do anything like that after the reports that were coming out of several camps about a month ago.

Raise your hand if you thought you’d see Dion Waiters going after someone NOT wearing a Cavaliers jersey.

If your hand is up, you are flat out lying.

His agent has either hired him one heckuva good PR guy, the stories coming out of the players-only meeting from nearly a month ago weren’t true, or this team has grown coming out of that pivotal meeting.

In the Rearviewmirror:

  • Ohio State lost to Michigan St., and they shouldn’t have. That said, Luke Fickell has to be sweating his job. I love Fickell, but his defenses have been getting steadily worse over the past seven seasons. Urban Meyer-led teams have great defenses. This is his team now, and perhaps it’s time for some changes at the top. They really need to ponder how this happens though. You don’t want to damage the recruiting class by losing players committed to the DC.
  • Everett Withers shouldn’t be lost in this shuffle either. It’s on both.
  • Hell truly has frozen over.
  • Josh Gordon is special. We didn’t talk Browns today, but we will over the next week. The Browns did what they needed to do, and they lost to the Bears, but played decent doing it. This team has upside, and that draft pick they received from Indy will be huge. Next year could be an interesting one football wise for the Browns. The Indians better be good…
  • Aaron Craft can flat out defend, but at the end of the day, this team will only be as good as the parts that nobody really talks about. Lenzelle Smith Jr. has been impressive, as has Amir Williams. Sam Thompson is so gifted athletically as well. The player to really watch out for though is Marc Loving. He may be one of the top two or three players on this team, when it’s all said and done, and if LaQuinton Ross doesn’t become the offensive anchor this team needs, I wouldn’t be surprised if Loving starting eating away at minutes for the guard-heavy lineup. Della Valle has value as well.
  • They all can play defense. In a year in which teams seem to be down, this could be an Ohio State team that overachieves, and surprises. If Amir Williams ever puts it all together, he could become a beast in the middle. He already is, but add consistency…and you could have something special.
  • The Buckeyes signed a QB, their first of the 2017 class. That’s right…the 2017 class. Do I really want to be talking about a kid that may not even be able to drive year? Recruiting is just a weird animal. Welcome to Ohio State I guess.

One thought on “The Sunday Drive with a Santana shift, MLB Money and a Waiters surge

  1. Pingback: Optimistic offense at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario | Cleveland Sports Insiders

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