Did Indians lock up baseball's top catcher?

April, 10, 2012
4/10/12
2:53
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The rash of long-term contracts continued as the Texas Rangers signed second baseman Ian Kinsler to a five-year, $75 million deal with a sixth option year and the Cleveland Indians signed catcher Carlos Santana to a five-year, $21 million deal.

Kinsler's deal will keep him in a Rangers uniform through 2018, his age-36 season, so there is a small amount of risk. But Kinsler has such a wide range of skills -- defense, baserunning, power, on-base ability -- that he should age well. He has had some injury issues in the past, so that's also a concern. This does create a potential logjam in the middle infield, where the Rangers have Elvis Andrus for at least three more seasons at shortstop, plus prospect stud Jurickson Profar, a 19-year-old who began the season at Double-A. Profar is blocked at shortstop but could move over to second base. Kinsler could then eventually move to left, where he has the athleticism and power to play, and is a better bet to remain healthy. All in all, a solid deal for the Rangers.

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The Santana deal, which also includes an option season for 2017, is much more intriguing. In his first full season in 2011, he hit 27 home runs and drew 90 walks. You know how many catchers have hit at least 25 home runs and drawn that many walks? Six. Santana, Jorge Posada (twice), Gene Tenace (twice), Mickey Tettleton (twice), Johnny Bench and Rudy York. Santana hit just .239, so it's possible that he'll be a low-average, high-OBP/power guy like Tenace or Tettleton. That's still an enormously valuable skill set. It's also possible he'll be a .260 or .270 hitter with 30 home runs and 100 walks. That would make him one of the most valuable players in the game, even with lukewarm reviews on his defense.

Santana's Baseball-Reference WAR at age 25 was 3.9. Since 1969, only 13 catchers put up a higher WAR at that age: Joe Mauer, Ivan Rodriguez, Gary Carter, Rich Gedman, Bench, Ted Simmons, Charles Johnson, Jason Kendall, Craig Biggio, Geovany Soto, Victor Martinez, Matt Wieters (4.0, also last season) and Mike Piazza. Not all those guys stayed at that level, of course, with Soto being a prime example of inconsistent production since his outstanding age-25 rookie season in 2008.

If Santana stays healthy, this projects as a team-friendly deal for the Indians, although Mike Axisa at FanGraphs argues the Indians didn't receive any discount. The caveat, of course, is health. You never know with catchers, and Santana had major knee surgery after the 2010 season. He did hold up well last season, as he started 88 games at catcher, 63 at first base and one at designated hitter. Santana threw out 24 percent of base stealers, just a tad below the 28 percent league average. He was credited with minus-1 defensive runs saved, so overall he doesn't appear to be much of a defensive liability, depending on how you want to evaluate his game-calling and pitch-framing skills.

Still, I see little risk here for Cleveland. Even if Santana doesn't stay behind the plate, he hits enough to play first base or DH. And there is the chance he'll develop into baseball's best catcher over the next six years.

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.

David Schoenfield | email

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