The Yankees were dealt a rather significant blow late last week when Russell Martin agreed to a two-year contract with the Pirates. The free agent market is short on starting-caliber catchers and it’s not often those guys get traded either, so replacing Russ will be very difficult. Unfortunately there isn’t much internal help either.
It’s no secret the Indians are in a full-rebuild mode (again), dangling pretty much every useful player on their roster. One of their best players is one of the game’s top young catchers, 26-year-old Carlos Santana. Cleveland originally acquired him from the Dodgers in the Casey Blake trade four years ago, and he made his big league debut a roughly two years later. He just completed his second full big league season. Santana is an excellent young player as I’m sure you know, but let’s break down the specifics of his game.
- Santana hit .252/.365/.420 (120 wRC+) this year and is a career .247/.363/.443 (124 wRC+) hitter in over 1,400 plate appearances. He’s a switch-hitter as well, with a career 118 wRC+ as a left-handed batter and 138 as a righty.
- In true Yankee fashion, Santana is a power and patience machine. He hit 27 homers a year ago and 45 total in his two full seasons (.193 ISO), second most among all catchers behind Mike Napoli. Santana also owns a stellar 15.4% walk rate (14.9% this year), and over the last two years it’s 14.8%. Only Jose Bautista, Joey Votto, Adam Dunn, and Carlos Pena have drawn free passes at a higher rate since 2011.
- Despite all those walks and deep counts, Santana’s career strikeout rate is a touch better than league average at 18.0% (16.6% in 2012). His career 78.2% contact rate is basically league average as well, which is pretty good for a guy who works a lot of counts and sees a lot of breaking balls.
- In addition to catcher, Santana also has over 80 career big league starts at first base and can play the position adequately. The Indians even stuck him in left field for a few innings during a blowout this year, but I wouldn’t get excited over that.
- The Indians signed Santana to a five-year contract extension worth $21M earlier this year (covering 2012-2016), so a $4.2M average annual value for luxury tax purposes. The deal also includes a club option ($12M or $1.2M buyout) for 2017, so he’s not going to be a free agent anytime soon.
- Santana is not a great hitter for average because he hits a ton of infield pop-ups. More than 5.5% of his career balls in play are infield pop-ups, and while that might not sound like much, it’s the 25th highest rate in baseball over the last three years (min. 1,000 PA). Infield pop-ups are essentially an automatic out, hence his career .271 BABIP and mid-.200s average.
- He’s not a great defensive catcher at all. Santana led the league in passed balls this year (ten) and is only league-average in terms of throwing out base-stealers (27%). He’s rated in the bottom five of recent pitching framing rankings and in the bottom quarter of 2012 catcher defense rankings.
- Santana has only started 100+ games behind the plate once: 106 split between High-A and Double-A in 2008. He’s started 88 and 95 games behind the plate the last two years, though it’s important to note that he often plays first base (or DH, point is they don’t take his bat out of the lineup) when he’s not catching, so the Indians have used him behind the plate less frequently than a typical starting backstop.
- Santana has suffered two major injuries in the last four years, though the torn knee ligaments in 2010 was the result of the collision at the plate. He also broke the hamate bone in his right wrist in 2009 while playing winter ball. A foul ball off the mask sent him to the 7-day concussion DL last year. Two of those injuries are fluky, but injuries are injuries.
If the Yankees wanted to swing a massive multi-player blockbuster to address most (or all) of their needs all at once, the Indians match up well as a trade partner. In addition to a catcher in Santana they could offer a right fielder (Shin-Soo Choo), a starting pitcher (Justin Masterson), a late-inning reliever (Chris Perez), a high-end infielder (Asdrubal Cabrera), and a low-end utility infielder (Mike Aviles or Jason Donald). Obviously it’s extremely unlikely the Yankees would acquire (or even look to acquire) all seven of those players at once, but the point is there’s potential to expand a deal.
Santana would fill several long-term needs for the Yankees. He’d obviously give them a replacement for Martin, but more importantly he would add power from the right side and another legitimate middle of the order bat to the lineup. With Nick Swisher gone and both Mark Teixeira and Alex Rodriguez in the middle of multi-year fades, finding another three- or four-hole type of hitter to complement Robinson Cano is more important than maybe the Yankees want to admit. There’s an awful lot to like about adding Santana to the Yankees, at least on the offensive side of the ball.
A player like this — a proven above-average switch-hitter who can at least fake a premium position and is both signed dirt cheap long-term and is several years away from his 30th birthday — has substantial trade value. I’m not normally one to throw comps around, but Santana sure has a lot of Jorge Posada in him, no? Obviously he’s not nearly as accomplished as Posada, but a switch-hitting catcher with power and patience who kinda sucks behind the plate? Yep, that’s Jorge. I’m not sure if the Yankees have the pieces to land a player of Santana’s caliber via trade — the Indians are reportedly looking for young pitching and David Phelps & Ivan Nova duo ain’t gonna cut it — and there’s no indication that he’s even available, but with Cleveland shopping everyone it sure wouldn’t hurt to ask.