Can Carlos Santana Convince the Indians to Pick Up His 2021 Option?

Casey Drottar

$17.5 million.

That’s how much it’ll cost the Cleveland Indians to keep Carlos Santana next year for his age-35 season.

It’s a high price tag, even considering the career year Santana just completed. It was high heading into this season, when Cleveland was prepping for a 162-game campaign.

When MLB began discussing an 82-game season sans fans, Santana’s option suddenly looked like a cost-cutting bullseye. Still, another productive year, paired with his tenure in Cleveland, may have helped his cause.

Now? 60 games to earn an eight-figure option during a season without ticket revenue?

At first glance, the uphill battle Santana is now facing sure looks predetermined.

Is it, though? Is there anything Cleveland’s longtime first baseman can do to convince the team to keep him for next season? Or is the upcoming campaign officially Santana’s swan song with the Indians?

The odds aren’t in his favor. At the same time, if you doubt Santana’s ability to defy expectations, just look at what happened last season.

While Tribe fans were happy to see Santana back in Cleveland, it’s tough to imagine anyone could’ve predicted the results he put forth in 2019. He was coming off a rocky year with Philadelphia, and returned to the Indians only after first being traded to Seattle.

With his prime behind him, it seemed fair to expect the usual from Santana -- a consistently strong OBP paired with above average power hitting.

Instead, he became Cleveland’s 2019 MVP.

While the Indians’ offense was stuck in neutral during the early months of the season, Santana was putting forth some of his best offensive numbers. By year’s end, he had logged career highs in runs (110), RBIs (93), slugging percentage (.515), OPS (.911), average exit velocity (91.8), hard hit percentage (44.9%), and fWAR (4.4).

It’s impossible to overstate how impressive Santana was in 2019. At times, he was the team’s sole source of offense. Cleveland spent the first half of the year staring at a wide distance between themselves and first place Minnesota, a gap which would’ve been canyon-sized were it not for Santana.

Despite this, the list of things working against him when it comes to next year’s option remains lengthy.

To start, Santana has to convince Cleveland he can replicate the kind of production he displayed last season. As noted a few months ago, this is something his career trends indicate may be a difficult task on its own.

It’s even tougher when he has 102 fewer games to work with. Tack on the fact he has a limited ramp-up period to prepare for this season and less wiggle room to work out of any offensive funks, and you can see how time isn’t doing Santana isn’t doing any favors.

Again, he’s coming off a season in which he made defying odds his specialty. Still, even if Santana overcomes all of this, somehow impressing even further in the coming months, is there any way Cleveland picking up his option becomes a realistic outcome?

The team’s recent offseason trends certainly cast doubt on that.

Despite sitting within a window of contention, the Indians actively shed salary this previous winter. This occurred while assuming this year would feature 162 games of baseball with fans in the stands.

Considering the losses Cleveland is now taking on, even a Herculean effort from Santana will do little to make that $17.5 million look like anything but easy costs to cut.

The fact is Santana is staring at a deck which is startlingly stacked against him.

The size of the option. His age. The financial hits Cleveland is enduring. Getting just 60 games to prove he's worth an eight-figure salary.

All of it has combined to effectively paint the Indians into a corner when it comes to Santana. It’s difficult to find any reason to believe 2020 isn’t his farewell tour.

Sure, considering all players are making prorated pay this summer, you could argue Cleveland is saving by not having to pay Santana the full $17.5 million he was owed in 2020. Unfortunately, this take is a bit of a stretch.

Without ticket revenue, the team as a whole faces significant losses this season. Even paying players 60 games’ worth of salary isn’t going to alter that outcome.

I will say, there’s one slight glimmer of hope for Santana. In case the use of italics didn’t indicate it enough, the word “slight” is doing a lot of heavy lifting here.

Still, the 2021 free agency options at first base are weak, and the only in-house replacements Cleveland has right now are Jake Bauers and Bobby Bradley.

Both players have areas of their respective games in need of improvement. Neither will get the minor league experience needed to change that this year.

It’s difficult to believe a summer of off-site training will be enough to ensure Bradley or Bauers is finally big-league ready. Would the team rather hang on to its long-time vet in order to avoid starting someone at first base despite their not being ready for it?

It’s worth considering, but Santana’s price tag is still the loudest voice in the room here. It basically comes down to whether the Indians’ concern with Bauers or Bradley is high enough to make $17.5 million palatable.

Considering the circumstances of this season, I’m not sure that happens.

You can never say never, especially when it comes to Santana. Still, right now it looks like there’s not much he can do to convince Cleveland to pick up his option for next season.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

There is another possible option, what if they agree to renegotiate the contract? If they decline the option, which they will do, what do you really think he can get as a 35 year old FA, no matter what he does this year in a 60 game season? Teams are not going to be throwing around massive contracts next year anyways. Before Covid, teams were not signing players in their mid 30's anyways, so let's see what he does this year and resign him for 6-8 million, IF that is what the market price for him is next year. I'm not ready to just hand the job to Bauers or Bradley.