PHILADELPHIA -- Carlos Santana had no reason to believe that the Phillies would make a play for him this winter.
They lost 91-plus games each of the previous three seasons, including 96 this year. They had nobody signed beyond next season other than Odubel Herrera. Sure, they had talented pieces on the roster, but few people seemed to think the Phillies were close to their first winning season since 2011. Santana probably expected to re-sign with the Indians -- who came within one victory of winning the World Series in 2016 -- or spend the remainder of his prime years with another postseason contender.
But last week the parties agreed to a three-year, $60 million contract. It is the organization's biggest free-agent signing since Cliff Lee signed a five-year, $120 million contract in December 2010.
"I'm surprised," Santana said Wednesday afternoon at an introductory news conference at Citizens Bank Park. "But I'm happy for that because they believe in me."
• Photos from the Santana news conference
Phillies general manager Matt Klentak contacted Santana's agent on the first day of free agency. Klentak reiterated that the Phillies love Santana and that they would be interested in signing him.
Santana's representatives got a lot of those phone calls that first week of free agency. Santana, 31, is a Gold Glove-caliber, switch-hitting first baseman with a career .810 OPS and .365 on-base percentage. He has hit 20-plus home runs in five of the past seven seasons and is known as a good teammate and a positive presence in the clubhouse.
The Phillies and Santana's representatives met at the GM Meetings in November, but they exchanged nothing more than than the occasional text message in the following weeks. But after Philadelphia signed relief pitchers Pat Neshek and Tommy Hunter to two-year contracts last week at the Winter Meetings, it seems Santana started to look differently at the Phillies -- maybe they were not so far away from winning after all.
"The path is there," Santana's agent Ulises Cabrera said.
Klentak explained that path to Cabrera.
"We're talking about a guy who has been through the mud [in Cleveland] and now all of a sudden he's getting an opportunity to win annually," Cabrera said. "Matt was very convicted in their timeframe and what they're going to be doing here in the near future. I said to Carlos back at the GM Meetings, 'Hey, I don't know if this is actually going to happen, but this guy is serious.' That's important. You can't be that serious and communicate in that way without the support of ownership."
The Phillies are expected to take a plunge next winter into a deep free-agent market, which is expected to include Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Santana's arrival not only gives the Phillies a better chance to win next season, particularly in a division with only the Nationals as a team likely to finish with a winning record, but he gives them a better sales pitch next winter to those prospective free agents.
"We are genuinely excited about this organization's future," Klentak said. "You've heard me talk about it a lot this offseason -- about the strides we believe we made in the second half last year, about the quality of our farm system, about our ownership's commitment. We basically told him the truth from the very beginning. We told him why we thought he was a good fit here -- the skillset he possesses and the impact we believe he can have."
The Phillies might not be finished this offseason, as they still could use a starting pitcher. It remains unlikely they will throw a heaping pile of cash at free agents like Jacob Arrieta or Yu Darvish, but it makes sense to improve the rotation after signing Santana, who gives the Phils a more formidable lineup.
"We're going to try to add the best pitcher we can," Klentak said. "There's a balancing act here. If you look at our rosters, not only at the big league level but also at Triple-A and Double-A, we have a lot of starting pitching players and prospects who are close to big league ready, and we need to make sure those players continue to get those reps and innings that they need to develop at this level. But at the same time, we need to make sure we are doing everything we can to win Week 1 of the regular season next year."
The chance to win in Week 1 has improved with Santana. He said he remembers when the Indians hired Terry Francona before the 2013 season, when Cleveland made efforts to improve its roster and started to win. He sees the same thing happening in Philly with the hiring of new manager Gabe Kapler.
"I know the Phillies have a lot of young players," Santana said. "I signed here because the Phillies want me. They believe in me. I'm excited."