PHILADELPHIA — Phillies general manager Matt Klentak long admired Carlos Santana.
He has tried to acquire the former Cleveland Indians first baseman in trades.
He called Santana’s agent on the first day of free agency this offseason.
On Wednesday, the Phillies made it official.
Klentak finally got the player he wanted with his first high-profile free-agent signing as Philadelphia’s general manager.
Philadelphia signed Santana to a three-year, $60 million contract with a club option for 2021.
“Carlos Santana is a player that I and our baseball operations group has targeted for a long time,” Klentak said. “He checks off every box for an offensive player that we’re looking for. We’ve had him as a trade target for years.”
The Phillies introduced Santana to the Philadelphia media during a news conference at Citizens Bank Park on Wednesday afternoon.
As his family looked on from the front row, Santana donned a Phillies jersey and cap.
Santana didn’t know until this offseason just how much the Phillies wanted him. He admitted he was surprised Philadelphia showed interest in him.
“I’m happy for that,” Santana said. “They believe in me. I know Philly has a lot of younger players, but my decision to sign here was because, they wanted me.”
Santana, 31, is the type of hitter the Phillies’ current management craves. The switch hitter batted .259 with 23 home runs and 79 RBIs for the Indians last season. He often batted leadoff and had a .363 on-base percentage. The past two seasons Santana has struck out 193 times but also drawn 187 walks. It is rare in baseball for a hitter to strike out and walk the same amount of times.
“It is our goal,” Klentak said, “to put forth a lineup every day — one through eight — with players who grind at-bats, take pitches, work for walks, hit with power, make the opposing pitchers work. There are very few players in baseball who are as good as that as (Santana).”
Phillies ownership has made its clear it’s willing to spend on free agents. Klentak said the length of the Santana deal made him especially attractive.
“We were open (with Santana) from the beginning,” Klentak said, “that if he was going to land a four- or five-year deal that’s not a position we wanted to put ourselves in.”
Santana made his big-league debut in 2010 and has spent his entire career with the Indians. Santana said Cleveland did try to resign him.
“We just couldn’t come to mutual terms,” Santana said.
Santana comes from a winning organization, and his veteran presence should have a positive effect on the Phillies’ young players.
“It’s an absolute monster,” Phillies manager Gabe Kapler said of Santana’s leadership skills. “We lost a clubhouse leader (in Freddy Galvis, who was traded to San Diego last week), but this is a guy who can step in and demonstrate a lot of those same characteristics.”
Kapler didn’t commit when asked where Santana would play and where he would hit in the lineup. But Santana is a first baseman. He has played just seven games in the outfield the past three seasons. Santana has more versatility as a hitter. He had more than 95 at-bats at leadoff, cleanup, fifth and sixth in the order last season.
“He can hit anywhere in the lineup and that’s part of what makes him so attractive,” Kapler said. “We can mix and match and move him around.”
One of the big questions at Wednesday’s press conference was what does Santana’s signing mean for Rhys Hoskins, who made his major league debut in August and created a sensation with 18 home runs in 50 games.
Hoskins played first base in the minor leagues but played both left field and first for the Phillies.
Philadelphia management has no doubt Hoskins and Santana can co-exist.
Kapler telephoned Hoskins last week to tell him the team was signing Santana. He said Hoskins was excited about the move.
Hoskins — like Santana — also can hit for power with a high on-base percentage.
“The idea of having Santana and Hoskins in the middle of the lineup with their power and their strike-zone control is a dream,” Klentak said. “That’s how winning teams are made.”