"Giving $21 million instead of a birthday card?" Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said with a smile. "That's a good birthday."
The Indians announced on Tuesday that they had gifted Santana with a five-year contract worth $21 million, locking up the catcher through his years of arbitration eligibility. The deal includes a club option for 2017 that would assume Santana's first year of free agency if exercised.
It was the second signing in the past week that locked up a player viewed to be a part of Cleveland's core group. Last Wednesday, the Indians inked All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to a two-year extension that will keep him in the fold through at least 2014.
Santana's deal came to fruition after the catcher turned 26 years old on Sunday.
|"It's my best birthday in my life. This is my second home. I'm so excited. I'll be here for a long time. I want to help my team and try to win a championship. I'm just so excited. I don't have words for what I'm feeling."|
|-- Carlos Santana|
The contract served as icing on the cake for the catcher. On Sunday, Santana celebrated his big day by launching two home runs to power the Indians to a 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays at Progressive Field. That showing provided a glimpse into the type of hitter Santana has developed into for the Tribe over the past two years.
Santana is only in his second full season with Cleveland, but he has a home in the lineup as the team's cleanup hitter. Last season, the catcher set a franchise record for home runs by a switch-hitter by belting 27 for the Tribe. He also joined sluggers Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera and Joey Votto as the only hitter in the big leagues with at least 25 homers, 30 doubles and 90 walks.
"I think it's terrific," Indians manager Manny Acta said of Santana's new contract. "It's great that the kid doesn't have to worry about anything and this franchise won't have to worry about one of the cornerstones of this team right now for five years at least. It's a middle-of-the-order bat, and a premium position-type of guy. He's a very productive guy.
"He just needs to continue to work on his consistency at the plate. That's it. Regardless the batting average, he's still a very productive player. You're talking about a guy that was among only four guys that did what he did last year. And we all know [his average] is going to come. He started swinging the bat well this year and he's going to get better.
"I think it's a great deal for everybody."
As part of his new contract, Santana's 2012 base salary ($501,900) remains unchanged, but he will earn a $1 million signing bonus. Over the next four years, respectively, the catcher is scheduled to earn salaries of $550,000, $3.5 million, $6 million and $8.25 million. For 2017, the Indians can either pick up a $12 million club option or pay Santana a $1.2 million buyout.
Antonetti noted that he began discussing a long-term contract with Santana's representatives, Adam Katz and Andy Mota, at the onset of Spring Training. By Opening Day, the sides had an agreement in place, paving the way for Tuesday's announcement. Mota, who has worked with Santana since 2006, was on hand for the press conference at Progressive Field.
"He's been like a kid to me," Mota said. "He calls me his U.S.A. daddy."
Mota said he was thrilled for Santana, who came to the United States from his native Dominican Republic after signing with the Dodgers as an undrafted free agent at 18 years old. Santana comes from a poor family, so achieving such financial security as soon as possible was always a goal for the catcher.
"When you come from poverty like he does," Mota said, "there's always that fear of something going wrong, even if you project to be a superstar. There's that fear in you of losing everything you've worked for. So for these kids, when they get that security and they can relax and just play, it means the world to them."
|"We've seen Carlos develop into one of the best offensive catchers in baseball. "I think what has us excited organizationally is not only the offense that he provides, but how far he's come defensively."|
|-- GM Chris Antonetti|
Last season, Santana hit .239 with a .351 on-base percentage, collecting 27 home runs, 35 doubles, 79 RBIs, 84 runs scored and 97 walks in 155 games for the Indians. The Tribe acquired him from Los Angeles in the July 2008 trade that sent Casey Blake to the Dodgers. L.A. shifted Santana from third base to catcher in 2007 and Cleveland's scouts felt he would be capable of sticking at that spot.
"Our evaluators did a very good job," Antonetti said. "Scouts identified Carlos' ability to hit as well as his athleticism and the potential he had to be a catcher. At that point, it was his first year full-time catching. Our scouts felt he had the ability to stay behind the plate."
Santana has done just that with the Indians, turning into one of the top young catching talents in the game. His offensive ability is such that Cleveland also uses him as a part-time designated hitter and first baseman in order to keep his bat in the lineup on a daily basis. It is Santana's defense that requires a little more development.
In his time with the Indians, Santana has worked diligently with bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr., who spent 20 years as a catcher in the big leagues. They focused on defense and throwing this spring, and the catcher's commitment to improving those areas, as well as his relationship with the pitching staff, helped convince Cleveland's front office that signing him to a long-term contract was imperative.
"We've seen Carlos develop into one of the best offensive catchers in baseball," Antonetti said. "I think what has us excited organizationally is not only the offense that he provides, but how far he's come defensively."
Santana was excited to be sticking around, too.
The contract certainly beat a slice of birthday cake.
"It's much better," Santana said.