CLEVELAND -- For the past couple of seasons, Carlos Santana would look for Indians manager Terry Francona in the dugout before games. Santana would walk over and plant a kiss atop Francona's bald head before preparing for his first at-bat of the day. That memory made Francona crack a smile
CLEVELAND -- For the past couple of seasons, Carlos Santana would look for Indians manager Terry Francona in the dugout before games. Santana would walk over and plant a kiss atop Francona's bald head before preparing for his first at-bat of the day. That memory made Francona crack a smile earlier this week at the Winter Meetings.
"He's hard not to like," Francona said. "He's lovable."
Now, Phillies fans will have a chance to learn to love Santana, who has been a cornerstone of Cleveland's roster for the better part of the past decade. On Friday, MLB.com confirmed that Santana agreed to a three-year contract with Philadelphia, pending a physical. MLB.com's Jesse Sanchez reported that Santana's pact is worth $60 million guaranteed with a $17.5 million team option for 2021.
The contract is similar to the one that the Indians handed to slugger Edwin Encarnacion last offseason, when he became the biggest free-agent signing ($60 million over three years with a $20 million club option for '20) in team history. Cleveland was not in a position to hand Santana that kind of money this winter, so the team is now forced to figure out which direction to take in order to fill the vacancy at first base.
The internal solution could be to have Encarnacion (primarily a designated hitter last season) slide over to first base. Outfielders Michael Brantley and Lonnie Chisenhall, or third baseman Yandy Diaz, also present possibilities. It is more likely that Cleveland tries to fill that need via an external addition.
"We've got Edwin we can certainly put there," Francona said. "We can put Lonnie there, if we want. We have guys we could [play at first]. I think we'd probably like to sign somebody."
The free-agent market has a few alternatives, including the likes of Logan Morrison, Matt Adams, Lucas Duda or Adam Lind, for example. Morrison and Adams, specifically, were linked to Cleveland in reports over the past week. If Santana's price tag was too steep, then a big-ticket free agent like Eric Hosmer would also seemingly be out of the Tribe's operating range.
If the Indians wanted to create some financial wiggle room, one scenario would be trying to trade second baseman Jason Kipnis. Cleveland is not sure if Kipnis would play second or outfield in 2018, plus he is coming off an injury-marred season and owed $30.5 million guaranteed over the next two years. During the Winter Meetings, the Mets were one team to express interest in Kipnis.
For what it is worth, Kipnis told MLB.com that he hopes not to be traded.
"Why would I want to be traded?" Kipnis said. "We're a 100-win team in the middle of our window. Why would I want to go anywhere else? And it's with all my best friends. I want to be with the Cleveland Indians."
Knowing that Santana might net a lucrative contract elsewhere, the Indians took steps to at least acquire a compensatory pick in the 2018 MLB Draft. Cleveland extended a one-year, $17.4 million qualifying offer, which Santana rejected. Since his new deal with the Phillies is reportedly worth north of $50 million total, Cleveland would get an extra pick between the first round and Competitive Balance Round A in next summer's Draft.
• New qualifying offers explained
Santana -- who averaged 24 home runs, 32 doubles, 81 RBIs, 79 runs, 98 walks and 153 games with an .808 OPS over the past seven seasons -- is the third free agent to come off the board for the Indians in the last few days. Cleveland also lost setup man Bryan Shaw to the Rockies (three years, $27 million) and reliever Joe Smith ($15 million over two years) to the Astros. Outfielders Jay Bruce and Austin Jackson are also among Cleveland's free agents this winter.
After news broke about Santana's deal with the Phillies, Indians catcher Yan Gomes said the team's players were still confident in the group returning to defend Cleveland's consecutive American League Central titles.
"There's no denying that those guys will be missed," Gomes said. "But we still have the best pitching staff in the American League. We still have a ton of depth. ... If we make additions, or even if we don't, I still think we're going to be a force to be reckoned with. We have a good window right now with our team and we're really excited. We've got a lot to look forward to. No one is panicking."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.