It was the John Hart way. Lock up your young, under team control star players to long term contracts by buying years of some of those arbitration and/or free agent years for financial security in the now. Hart was the first GM to make these moves in the early 90’s with the likes of Sandy Alomar, Carlos Baerga, and such. His successor, Mark Shapiro, attempted to do the same during his run as General Manager, giving deals like this to Grady Sizemore, Jhonny Peralta, Victor Martinez, and the artist formerly known as Fausto Carmona.
Now the man running the show in Cleveland, Chris Antonetti, has made his moves. After announcing last week’s two-year extension for Asdrubal Cabrera (signed through 2014), the Tribe today trumpeted the signing of their best and brightest young star, Catcher Carlos Santana, to a five-year, $21 million deal. All of this for a guy who just celebrated his 26th birthday on Monday.
“$21 million instead of a birthday card? That’s a good birthday, ” said Antonetti at yesterday’s press conference.
“This is the best birthday ever,” exclaimed a happy Santana who just cashed in years before he would be seeing a big payday.
I get what the Indians are doing. They see a guy who is a hitting machine who isn’t even close to scratching the surface of his potential yet, and a guy who when he hits arbitration, will be in for huge pay increases year to year. Yes, they already had him under their control through the guaranteed length of this new deal (2016), but the $21 million is a very manageable number when you consider how good Santana could be and the fact that under the new basic collective bargaining agreement, he could have become arbitration eligible after this season.
The deal breaks down like this for Santana:
$1 million signing bonus. $501,000 for 2012, $550,000 for 2013, $3.5 million for 2014, $6.0 million for 2015, $8.25 million for 2016, and a $12 million club option for 2017. The way the Indians see it – Santana is a stud whom they’d be glad to pay $12 million in that club option year if he is as good as we all think he is.
“When you combine his offense, and what he provides behind the plate with his defense and leadership potential, it leaves us with a cornerstone player not only for the present, but for the teams to come,” explained Antonetti.
If there was ever a bat the Indians should try to keep long term, it is Santana. He’s young, he’s a switch hitter, and he hits big at a non-premium position (catcher). If they choose to develop a young catcher down the road to replace him, Carlos can move to first base, where the Indians don’t currently have a long term answer anywhere in sight. DH Travis Hafner also comes off the books after 2012 and the DH role will be vacant, allowing Santana to take some of those at-bats if they Indians chose to go that route.
While we’re on the subject of “coming off the books,” the Indians will be free of Hafner’s $13 million, Sizemore’s $5 million, Derek Lowe’s $5 million, Casey Kotchman’s $3 million, and the renegotiated $2.5 million of the Roberto Hernandez deals after the season. I think it is safe to say that other than maybe Lowe (depending on performance), the Tribe wouldn’t be looking at bringing any of these guys back in 2013. That’s $30.5 million off the payroll in 2013. This gives them room to potentially look an extension for another young star, Justin Masterson, though it has been reported that the two sides are “far apart” in talks. Shin-Soo Choo, another guy the Indians would like to lock up, will be playing his way to free agency after the next two seasons, considering his agent is Scott Boras.
Back to Santana. In his first full year in the bigs, he hit 27 homers, 35 doubles, and drove in 79 runs, while walking 97 times and putting up an OPS of .808. He did this at the age of 25, coming off of a devastating knee injury a summer before, and flipping back and forth between the third and cleanup spots in a batting order. You can’t forget that that lineup was missing big guns Choo, Hafner, and Sizemore for big portions of the season. There were only four Major Leaguers in 2011 who hit at least 25 homers, 35 doubles, and 90 walks. Santana was one of them.
It is nice to know that the Indians will have an offensive centerpiece locked in at an affordable, club-friendly price, through 2017 should they choose.
Said team President and former GM Shapiro via Twitter: “Excited to get a multiyear deal done with Carlos that could keep him here through 2017. He’s an exciting middle-of-the-diamond run producer that we can build around.”
John Hart was smiling from somewhere in the MLB Network studios over this deal. This was his big idea that worked. It is still working 20 years later.