2020 season age: 34 – Throws: Right – Bats: Switch: Contract: – $17.5 million (3rd of a 3-year deal, with a 4th year team option of $17.5 million for 2024)
2019 in review: The homecoming for Carlos Santana to Cleveland after spending one season in Philadelphia was a grand one. He set career highs in his entire slash line (.281/.397/.515), tied his career high in homers of 34, and drove in 108 runs. He made his first All-Star team as a starter at first base. He was a huge source of offense for the Indians in the first half with Francisco Lindor recovering from his ankle injury and Jose Ramirez struggling.
Beyond the stats: It’s rare for a 33 year old to have the best year of his career in his 10th season, hitting the ball harder than he ever has before. But what changed is Santana stopped hitting into the shift he’s seen much of his career. He set a career high in hitting the ball back up the middle (34.9%). He also had an infield fly ball rate below 10%, down from 17% from a year ago. His average exit velocity was 91.8, a career high, putting him in the 93rd percentile and a 44.9 hard hit rate, also a career high and in the 84th percentile.
Offensive impact: With the evidence presented above in batted ball data and change in approach, Santana’s .293 BABIP being a career high doesn’t seem fluky. It’s not an unsustainable BABIP (even though it dropped to .273 in the second half, along with pulling the ball more again) if he can find a way to be consistent with his first half approach. There’s no sign that Santana can’t have a similar campaign in 2020. Both his walk and strikeout rates were around his strong career average marks along with his swinging strike rate. As a switch hitter he shows strong results against both lefties and righties. Even at 34, Santana is still looking like he’s an above average offensive contributor as a first basemen.
Defensive impact: Defensive metrics suggest that it wasn’t Santana’s best defensive year by any means. He was worth 0 DRS for the second straight season, down from 9 in 2017 when hew as robbed of a Gold Glove. StatCast’s Outs Above Average had him at -1 in the 27th percentile. Outs Above Average had him at 6 in 2018 as well. It looks like Santana is probably at the stage of his career where he’s an average defender at first base and possibly could still be slightly above average. He may no longer be the top level defender at first base he was two or three years ago that he never got his due for outside of Cleveland but is still more than viable there on an everyday basis as he likes to play everyday.
2020 role: Santana should still be hitting in the top half of the Indians lineup in 2020, whether he leads off or hits cleanup. He could hit fifth behind Franmil Reyes too, which could be too low for where Santana’s value is, but he’s still more than capable of producing an OPS above .800 with a high on-base percentage and 25-30 homers. He remains the stalwart he’s been over his career in Cleveland and has somehow managed to get better as he’s aged some.
Fantasy impact: First base has a lot of elite hitters right now like Freddie Freeman, Pete Alonso and Matt Olson, but Carlos Santana is a pretty good option at the top of the second tier. In 2019 he was 5th in OPS among all first basemen and seventh in batting average. He’s especially valuable in OBP leagues. You can count on at least a .350 OBP and .450 SLG with 25 homers or so, at least that pace whenever the season gets going and how much is left. You can get plenty of extremely valuable production from Santana without reaching for the likes of Freeman and Alonso, who is going to have some regression baked in and probably won’t hit at a 53 homer pace again. Even if you bake in regression to Santana’s line from 2019 he’s still a very good option at the top of the second tier at good value. My personal favorite at first base for 2020 is Matt Olson, but I’m planning on having plenty of shares of Santana in league’s because he’s a safe option with plenty of upside and will provide plenty of value where he gets taken usually.