This was in early June 2010. The Indians had called up one of their top minor league prospects. During batting practice that day, prior to his major league debut, the player came into the dugout and sat down next to Manny Acta, who was in his first year as the Indians’ manager.
“He sits down, looks at me, and, totally serious, says, ‘You know — I can hit,” said Acta with a laugh.
Carlos Santana wanted to make that perfectly clear to his new manager, right up front. The new player wanted to make sure the new manager knew what Carlos knew. That Carlos could hit.
Acta already knew that.
In 2008, the year the Indians acquired him from the Dodgers, Santana, playing for three teams in three leagues for two organizations, hit a combined .326, with 21 home runs, 117 RBIs, 39 doubles, scored 125 runs, with a .431 on-base percentage and a .999 OPS.
Two years later, Santana was called up by the Indians and, after telling Acta he could hit, Santana went out and hit. In his first nine games in the majors, he hit .393 with a .514 on-base percentage, and a 1.300 OPS. In 28 at-bats, Santana hit two home runs, five doubles, with eight RBIs and seven walks.
Santana’s salary with the Indians that year was $416,600.
Next year with the Philadelphia Phillies, Santana’s salary will be $20 million, the first year of a three-year, $60 million contract that became official Wednesday.
Nice work, if you can get it, and you can get it if you can do what Santana has done for the last eight years.
He is not a star. He’s never made an all-star team. In his eight years in Cleveland he never led the American League in anything, except for 2014, when he led the league with 113 walks.
But what makes him valuable is that he is so available.
Over the last seven years with the Indians, Santana averaged 153 games and 580 at-bats per season. He never gets hurt. Never asks out of a game. Never embarrasses the organization. Stays out of trouble off the field, and produces pretty well, and pretty consistently on it.
He’s the best switch-hitter in Indians history. He has hit more home runs in a season and in a career than any switch-hitter in Indians history. He has the most career RBIs of any switch-hitter in Indians history.
Only three players in Indians history have drawn more walks than Santana. Two are Hall of Famers — Tris Speaker and Lou Boudreau — and the other is about to become one: Jim Thome.
Santana can hit, but he never became the hitter his minor league numbers hinted he might become. He’s a career .249 hitter in the majors. He’s never driven in more than 87 runs in a season, or hit higher than .268.
But he shows up every day. Gives you an honest day’s work, and puts the team first. He came up as a catcher, but that didn’t work out, so the Indians moved him to third base, and that worked out even worse.
However, he eventually found a home at first base, and by the time he played his last game for the Indians, had become the best throwing first baseman in the majors, and in 2017 was one of three finalists for a Gold Glove.
Now, at age 31 — he’ll turn 32 in April — he’s a $60 million man, and the Indians, interested in keeping him, but not at that price, have a gaping hole at first base.
The loss of Santana closes the book on the trade that brought him to Cleveland. In July of 2008 the Indians traded Casey Blake to the Dodgers, for a switch-hitting catcher who at the time was hitting .323 at Class A.
Two years later he would sit down next to Manny Acta and announce, “I can hit.”
But what Carlos Santana could do even better than hit, was be a pro. Tangibles are great, but intangibles can push teams and careers over the top. Santana had all the intangibles.
He played hard. He played every day — manager Terry Francona said it was almost impossible to get him to take a day off — and he was a great teammate.
The Blake-for-Santana trade is the kind of trade at which the Indians excel: identifying future impact big leaguers in the minor league systems of other teams, and then trading an expendable, or expensive veteran in order to get the younger player’s best years.
Some examples: Corey Kluber, Michael Brantley, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Bryan Shaw, Mike Clevinger.
Santana will be missed. He was not a star in Cleveland, but he was dependable, productive and professional.
There are a lot of worse ways for teams to spend their money.