The Domingo Santana Signing by the Indians Shows a Vote of Confidence for Franmil Reyes

Casey Drottar

Finally, after months of endless fan demand, the Cleveland Indians acquired the outfield help everyone was expecting them to bring in.

Well, sort of.

Yasiel Puig is still nowhere near the Indians’ spring training clubhouse, a situation which likely isn’t going to change. Instead of signing the fan favorite, Cleveland inked a deal with former Seattle Mariner Domingo Santana.

While certainly not a move which will send supporters screaming towards their nearest ticket broker, it’s a signing which carries some upside.

Though Santana saw notable decline after his career year in 2017, he was showing signs of improvement last season before elbow inflammation hindered his offensive production.

Provided he can regain the power he displayed three seasons ago – and at the very least make slight improvements with his strikeout rate – Santana could become a savvy signing on the Indians’ part.

For now, said move also serves as a vote of confidence for Franmil Reyes. By bringing in Santana, the Indians are also expressing their belief that Reyes can indeed become a reliable outfield option in 2020.

I’ve previously noted some concerns when it comes to giving Reyes significant time in the outfield this summer. In 1212.0 career innings, he’s logged a Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) of -12 and an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of -7.4.

Reyes also left a lot to be desired when looking at his defense through FanGraphs’ Inside Edge Fielding, which measures how often a player makes a defensive play of a particular difficulty.

Despite this, Reyes spent his 2019 exit interview expressing his desire to contribute in the field this season, insisting he'd put significant work in over the offseason.

The assumption was that, while this was all well and good, Cleveland would eventually acquire a more reliable option.

Santana is not what you’d label a “reliable option,” at least not defensively. The suspect numbers Reyes has displayed in the field? Santana’s are worse. Much, much worse.

He’s coming off a season where he logged a DRS of -17 in 865.2 outfield innings, as well as a UZR of -16.1.

Per Baseball Savant, he ranked in the bottom 2% of the league when it came to outfield jump. Using Statcast’s new Outs Above Average tool, Santana finished last year with a -13.

Only one player posted a lower number.

Analyzing Santana’s performance through the aforementioned Inside Edge Fielding statistic won’t ease anyone’s concerns, either.

For his career, he’s converted only 67.6% of likely plays (plays that 60-90% of average MLB outfielders would make) and just 19% of even plays (plays that 40-60% of average MLB outfielders would make).

This may sound like a reversal on my part, as I’m only a few paragraphs removed from claiming to see the Santana signing as a potentially shrewd move.

I still believe it could be, as he’s posted an above average wRC+ in three of the past four seasons. Provided his nagging elbow has healed, Santana could serve as quite an effective DH.

Which brings me back to my original point.

If the Indians were concerned about the idea of relying on Reyes in the outfield, if they wanted to avoid that option as much as possible, why would they acquire someone with worse numbers?

If the goal was to keep Reyes at DH, why bring in a player who could prove even less reliable defensively?

It doesn’t make a ton of sense.

Unless, that is, the Indians feel confident in what they’ve seen and heard regarding Reyes’ offseason work. If they believe weight loss and an increase in agility is exactly what he needed to improve his defensive performance.

The signing of Santana certainly seems to indicate that’s the case. If Cleveland was genuinely worried about relying on Reyes, one would think the team would prioritize adding an outfielder with better defensive numbers.

It’s a bold move, to say the least. Reyes’ past performance speaks for itself. At the same time, he held up his end of the bargain, shedding 18 pounds this winter to show Cleveland he was serious about becoming a better fielder.

It’s a significant amount of weight loss, and also proves he wasn’t just giving his team lip service.

By acquiring Santana, the Indians seem to be letting Reyes know they’re buying in. They’re letting him know they’re giving him a fair shot in the outfield, and are rewarding him for the hard work he put in this winter.

That, or they see Santana as some sort of “could be worse” comparison to make themselves feel more comfortable with Reyes defensively.

Either way, the Indians picking up Santana appears to be their way of expressing confidence in what Reyes can provide them defensively.