This past offseason, I looked at the fact that the Indians had no players under contract beyond 2012.  That’s not to say that they didn’t have players under team control beyond this season, just that none of them had a guaranteed contract.

That all changed after Asdrubal Cabrera was offered a two-year extension earlier this month, buying out his final arbitration year and one year of free agency.  Today, the Indians announced that they signed catcher Carlos Santana to a 5-year deal worth $21 million; the contract includes a team option for 2017.  This deal will buy out the remainder of Santana’s arbitration eligible years, and will give the team the option of keeping him under control for his first year of free agency.  The breakdown of the deal: Santana receives a $1 million signing bonus; he’ll make $501, 900 in 2012, $550,000 in 2013, $3.5 million in 2014, $6 million in 2015, $8.25 million in 2016, and his 2017 option is worth $12 million with a $1.2 million buyout.  Overall, a pretty nice birthday present coming on the heels of his 26th birthday on Sunday.

The Indians were notorious for locking up young players with multi-year deals that cover their arbitration years.  They did it during the 1990s with players like Bartolo Colon and Jaret Wright, and they did it in the 2000s with players like Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez.  While the team typically lets free agents walk away (or trades them for prospects) the Indians usually opted for these multi-year deals for their young stars.  Even though they’re already under team control, it keeps the team from negotiating with these players on a year to year basis.  It also helps a team control costs – this past season the Indians doled out raises to several players on one-year deals.  Now, the Indians know exactly how much will be budgeted for Santana over the next five years.

Deals such as this are often a roll of the dice, for players and teams.  What if a player gets hurt a lot (i.e. Jaret Wright), or doesn’t perform to their potential?  On the other hand, what if a player’s stats are through the roof, yet they end up being paid under market value on a team-friendly contract.

In the case of Santana, I think this contract is excellent news.  He’s a budding star, and the Indians can build an offense around him with other young players (hopefully).  I know I’m a bit biased, since Santana is my favorite player.  There’s a good piece from the SweetSpot today, where Dave Schoenfield asks, “Did the Indians lock up baseball’s top catcher?”

An excerpt:

“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.”

Even if Santana doesn’t happen to catch on a given day, he can still get time at first or as DH.  The Indians have talked to representatives for Justin Masterson, but so far talks of an extension are at a standstill.  If you’re going to lock up another player, Masterson makes the most sense.  Other young players like Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis are still a bit unproven at this point, so it’s probably best to take a “wait and see” approach with both for now.  Shin-Soo Choo, unfortunately, is a Scott Boras client; this means it may be difficult for the Indians to sign him to a deal they feel comfortable with over the long term.  Chris Antonetti and Paul Dolan said they’re trying to lock up “core” players, yet did not elaborate on their definition of “core.”

The first player jersey I ever purchased (actual jersey and not a t-shirt) was Carlos Santana.  Because I’m cheap (and jerseys are expensive) I bought one in a child’s size.  So the good news is that it now won’t be obsolete over the next five years.  The bad news is that I have to be careful not to gain any weight, since I need to fit into a child’s size jersey over the next five years!

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