Change is sometimes necessary in order to succeed and, at times, payroll must be preserved in the process, making the Cleveland Indians’ decision to sign first baseman Yonder Alonso over re-signing Carlos Santana the right course of action.
The Indians went into this offseason with a potential crisis on their hands. With right fielder Jay Bruce, relievers’ Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith, as well as Santana hitting the open market, they were in danger of losing some key pieces to their 102-win 2017 team. So far, Cleveland has watched Shaw head to Colorado on a three-year deal, Smith head to Houston on a two-year deal and Santana, their most significant free agent, depart for Philadelphia on a three-year deal. At the same time, Santana’s three-year deal with the Phillies will pay him, on average, $20 million a year, which is an incredibly high price tag per year for the first baseman.
Over the duration of his career, Santana has been a power-hitting presence at the plate. Hitting a combined 57 home runs over the past two seasons and 20+ four times in his career, while driving in 79+ runs in each of the last four, he has established himself as one of the better hitting first basemen in the game. Simultaneously, he’s a career .249 hitter and when you compare his offensive production and overall play to that of Alonso, as well as the contracts they both received, the Indians made the right decision letting their homegrown player walk.
Last week, the Indians agreed upon a two-year, $16 million deal with Alonso to bring him to Cleveland. Alonso, who endured a split season with the Oakland Athletics and Seattle Mariners in 2017, is a career .268 hitter and is beginning to come into his own as a power hitter at the plate. Hitting a combined 50 home runs over the last two seasons, the first baseman has begun to hit for power and can be plugged into the the middle of any order. Now joining an Indians’ lineup that consists of Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Edwin Encarnacion, Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley, Alonso can serve as a lefty bat in the middle of Terry Francona‘s order.
In addition to his recent power surge, the 30-year-old Alonso also committed just 10 errors in the field last season and has a good range. While Santana is also smooth at first and provides a power presence, the reality is that even if the Indians viewed him as the better player, he’s not worth $12 million more per year than Alonso, especially when management is looking to replace a number of impactful players in free agency.
Santana has been a huge part of this Indians’ team ever since he made his MLB debut in 2010. He’s been relatively durable, as he has played in 150+ games in six of the last seven seasons, has served as the team’s backstop and, most recently, grew into being one of the better all-around first basemen in baseball. Put Santana’s health and versatility together with his production at the plate and he’s a big loss, but at the same time, Alonso is a great get given his arsenal and team-friendly contract.
The Phillies, who haven’t made a playoff appearance since 2011, have one of the lowest payrolls in baseball and are looking to find ways to get back to relevancy; giving Santana an offer he couldn’t refuse to become a cornerstone of their team is a perfect example of that.
Alonso is more of a contact hitter than Santana, is sound in the field and a bargain at the contract the Indians got him for, in what’s a very deep first baseman market (Eric Hosmer, Lucas Duda, Logan Morrison and Mark Reynolds still remain on the open market, while Mitch Moreland, Santana and Alonso have inked deals). Losing Santana is like pulling a tooth for the Indians and probably their fanbase, however they couldn’t pay him what Philadelphia offered. Based on their skill sets and contacts, Alonso was the better and more shrewd signing for the Indians.