Smarter minds than mine have addressed the Indians experimenting with Carlos Santana at 3B, but those minds have looked at things like “defense” and “what the Indians need” and “does this make any sense at all.”
But you and I, we are fantasy players and care not for defensive deficiencies or displaced utility infielders. What we care about is whether or not Carlos Santana playing 3B impacts his fantasy value.
It’s tempting, off the bat, to say no. Santana is expected to be the Indians DH and #2 C (regardless of whether or not he adds 3B to the repertoire), and as long as he has C eligibility, he is more valuable as a fantasy backstop than he is as a fantasy 3B.
But, as always, there is more to it than that and using Santana as a part-time or full-time 3B in fantasy is worth looking at.
By wOBA, Steamer projects Santana to be the #4 backstop, tied with Mike Napoli (who really isn’t a catcher any more) and behind Buster Posey, Joe Mauer, and Wilin Rosario. Santana is also expected to accrue more than 600 PA – enough more than Rosario that he could be the third most valuable catcher for fantasy owners. In fact, the Rosario-Santana question, at least according to Steamer, likely comes down to format, as Rosario’s .278 average crushes Santana’s .252, but not as much as Santana’s .366 OBP crushes Rosario’s .316. So Santana is likely the 3rd or 4th best fantasy catcher and if you are in a keeper league and assume Mauer is about to run out of catcher eligibility, you could make an argument for moving Santana up another slot.
At 3B, that .352 wOBA is tied for 7th. He falls behind Miguel Cabrera, David Wright, Adrian Beltre, Evan Longoria, Matt Carpenter, and Pablo Sandoval, and is tied with Hanley Ramirez and Ryan Zimmerman. But with Carpenter likely playing 2B in most leagues and Ramirez playing SS, Santana would slot in at 6th. Not too shabby. With Zimmerman’s injury history, Steamer projects him for nearly 100 PA fewer than Santana, too, which is more than enough to break that 6th place tie.
And then there is the value of flexibility. Let’s say you are deciding between Rosario and Santana and are really torn. If you know you have Zimmerman at 3B, wouldn’t you feel better knowing that if (when?) he gets hurt, you can find a backup 3B or C, instead of being stuck searching for just one position? What if you know you can get two decent-but-not-great players (one C, one 3B) with heavy platoon splits? Wouldn’t the added flexibility of Santana be extremely valuable to you? How much is it worth? I don’t know, but it is worth more than 0.
Of course the big issue with any of these plans is that Santana doesn’t actually HAVE 3B eligibility yet and, depending on your format, he may never get it. In ottoneu, he would need 5 starts or 10 games played at the position, and I would not be at all surprised if he manages to hit one of those landmarks, but it might not happen until June or July. If your league is more stringent, you may not get the eligibility at all.
Going into auctions and drafts, I am doing the following:
- First, I am not counting on 3B eligibility. I will not draft Santana specifically to be my 3B.
- I am going to pay close attention the Indians Spring Training lineups. It is one thing to send a guy out there to test out 3B in Winter League, but if he is still playing the position in Arizona, my interest will be piqued.
- I am going to give Santana a slight boost on all my draft boards. He doesn’t go to the top of the list, or suddenly become a 1st round pick, but the potential for added eligibility breaks any ties, adds a couple dollars of value, and just generally makes him more attractive.
If you ignore all of this and take a “I’ll believe it when I see it” approach to Santana and the hot corner, I can’t blame you, nor will I tell you that you are wrong. But giving him a little nudge in your rankings would not be the worst idea. You never know when you might find yourself in need of a potential top-6 3B who can also play catcher.
Chad Young is a product manager at Amazon by day and a baseball writer (RotoGraphs, Let's Go Tribe), sports fan and digital enthusiast at all times. Follow him on Twitter @chadyoung.