The Cleveland Indians and Carlos Santana have agreed on a five year contract extension that guarantees the catcher $21 million, and includes a club option for 2017 which would be his first year of free agent eligibility. The deal covers Santana’s final two renewal years and his three arbitration eligible seasons.
The contract is more costly than a similar deal that the Milwaukee Brewers made with their young catcher Jonathan Lucroy, which guarantees him at least $11 million over the next five years. The up to $10 million difference, despite less service time for Santana, has to do with the difference in source for the respective players’ value.
Where Lucroy has proven his worth through an underrated metric (strike zone framing), much of Santana’s value is derived from his bat. The switch hitter, in his first full season in the league last year, ranked third among qualified catchers in weighted on base average. However, his defense at the catcher position combined with the time he’s spent playing at first base is enough to ask whether the Indians are extending the contract of a catcher, a first baseman, a designated hitter or a Mike Napoli type that can play all three.
Santana’s bat allows him to be a valuable member of any team at any of those three positions, but it would far more valuable behind the plate where defensive metrics rank him from below average to bad. As far as Indians in the cupboard (see what I did there?), no one in the Minor League system is knocking at the door at any of those positions, and the team appears to be nearing giving up on Matt LaPorta who was briefly thought of as the team’s future first baseman.
Another factor contributing to the deal being more expensive than previous arbitration eating contracts for catchers is Santana’s age. He’s already 26 years old, which means that his statistical peak could come during arbitration eligibility years, and drive up the cost of keeping him over that three year span. His age also makes the club option at the end of the contract even more team friendly, as it would be for his age 32 season.
With each year, the likelihood of Santana moving to first base or designated hitter full time increases, and as we mentioned earlier, with such a move, his value will decrease. So, while the terms of the current deal are fair for the player no matter where he plays, the degree to which it is a team friendly contract depends on where Santana plays as he gets older.