CLEVELAND — Editor's note: Nick Camino's interview with Terry Francona in the video in the player above is from Feb. 12, 2021.
After declining the player option on the contract of Carlos Santana, who went on to sign a two-year deal with the Kansas City Royals, the Cleveland Indians enter the 2021 season in search of a new starting first baseman.
With that in mind, let's take a look at Cleveland's current options for replacing the 2019 Silver Slugger and All-Star in its starting lineup.
The centerpiece of the trade package the Indians received from the San Diego Padres in the Mike Clevinger trade, Josh Naylor spent his first month in Cleveland primarily playing at designated hitter and in the outfield. He also, however, possesses the ability to play first base -- something he did frequently during his rise through the minor leagues, as well as in three games last season.
At 23-years-old, the left-handed-hitting Naylor is one of the most promising young players on the Indians' roster. And following the signing of Eddie Rosario, the 2015 first-round pick of the Marlin Marlins' services may no longer be needed in the outfield, freeing him up to be Cleveland's likeliest primary first baseman to start the season.
Acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays in the three-way trade that sent Edwin Encarnacion to the Seattle Mariners ahead of the 2019 season -- the same deal that brought Santana back to Cleveland -- Jake Bauers was once thought to be the Indians' first baseman of the future. But in 117 games in 2019, Bauers failed to make much of an impact, hitting for a .226 average (.683 OPS) and 12 home runs before being sent to the minors, where he remained for the entirety of the 2020 season.
Once considered one of the top prospects in the talent-rich Rays' organization, the 25-year-old Bauers has too much upside to count out. And while he's currently out of options, the left-handed hitter's ability to also play in the outfield could give him an advantage when it comes to making Cleveland's Opening Day roster as a bat off the bench.
Of the Indians' top performers in the minor leagues, Bobby Bradley has hit at least 23 home runs in each season dating back to 2015, including 33 in 2019. His first taste of Major League experience, however, wasn't as successful, as the left-handed slugger hit for just a .178 average (.600 OPS), one home run and four RBIs in 15 games with Cleveland in 2019.
At 24-years-old, Bradley is too young to give up on, especially for a franchise currently in need of power at the Major League level. With one minor league option remaining, it seems likely he'll begin the season in Triple-A Columbus, but may not have to wait long for his next shot at big league experience.