Carlos Santana returns to Cleveland as Indians, Mariners, Rays pull off huge three-team deal

LAS VEGAS – Baseball’s winter meetings closed with a moderate bang on Thursday, as the Seattle Mariners, Cleveland Indians and Tampa Bay Rays pulled off a three-team deal that had all the trappings of the modern game.

The rebuilding Mariners, having already dealt Robinson Cano, flipped first baseman/DH Carlos Santana to the Indians and received cash along with DH Edwin Encarnacion, who may not be long for Seattle, either.

The always cash-conscious Indians rid themselves of Encarnacion’s $22 million 2019 salary (plus a $5 million buyout for 2021) while adding a young, cost-controlled talent from Tampa Bay in first baseman Jake Bauers.

And the Rays, always in search of versatility, plucked a multi-positional talent from the Indians in Yandy Diaz along with pitching prospect Cole Sulser.

Add it up, and the clubs fit their current IDs perfectly:

The Mariners, receding.

The Indians, adding the personnel to three-peat in the AL Central while hopefully balancing their books in the long term.

And the Rays, tossing yet another versatile talent into what’s possibly the deepest 40-man roster in the game as they pivot from surprise 90-win team to, they hope, a club that can legitimately topple the Yankees and Red Sox.

“As with most three-team deals, everything had to line up,” Rays executive vice president Chaim Bloom said Thursday.

 That’s often the case with the Rays and Mariners, who have now made nine trades since Jerry Dipoto took over as Seattle’s general manager in September 2015.

This time, however, it was just the Rays’ cash going to Seattle, along with money from Cleveland, to off-set the salary owed Encarnacion. The Mariners can flip Encarnacion, who turns 36, this winter or perhaps at the trade deadline for more young assets. While his OPS has dropped three consecutive seasons, Encarnacion still posted an .810 mark in 2018 while slamming 32 home runs; he’s just 20 shy of 400 for his career.

In Santana, the Indians bring back a player who hit 174 home runs for them over eight seasons before he signed a three-year, $60 million deal with the Phillies one year ago. He batted just .229 in Philly, but still got on base at a .352 clip. He figures to DH often in Cleveland as the Indians work in Bauers, a 23-year-old who hit 11 homers in a 96-game debut with the Rays in 2018.

Bloom said “giving up Jake was not easy,” but adding Diaz’s right-handed bat significantly balances their lineup.

Diaz, 27, figures to primarily play first and third base, but Bloom indicated what his primary task will be: Hit the ball hard. Blocked in Cleveland by the Indians’ deep major league roster and system, Diaz – who has a .361 on-base percentage in 299 career plate appearances – can also play outfield.

Bloom acknowledged it’s fair to consider he could be the Rays’ version of Marwin Gonzalez, the versatile former Astro who’s now a free agent.

 “That is definitely an asset, to have a guy you can move around the field,” Bloom said. “We feel now we have a lot of those guys on our roster. It’s going to give (manager) Kevin (Cash) more options, more ways to construct lineups, more ways to insulate us against the day-to-day injuries that come up through the course of the season to make sure, as we go forward with this young group of players, that they’re all well-rested and energetic going into September and also October.”

Yes, October. The Rays are ready to go from bullpenning, 90-win curiosities to legitimate contenders. Bloom is still not ready to discuss the reported addition of right-handed starter Charlie Morton, who will give them a potentially powerful trio of starters along with Cy Young winner Blake Snell and Tyler Glasnow.

And that’s just for now.  

“We don’t feel like this is the end of our offseason,” he said.

The same can certainly be said for all three teams, even after they got a significant bit of business done Thursday.

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