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Royals, 1B Carlos Santana agree to $17 million, 2-year deal

FILE- In this Sept. 29, 2020, file photo, Cleveland Indians' Carlos Santana exits the batting cage before Game 1 of an American League wild-card baseball series against the New York Yankees in Cleveland. The Cleveland Indians have declined contract options on Brad Hand and first baseman Carlos Santana for next season, decisions that will initially cut $27 million from the team's payroll.  (AP Photo/David Dermer, File)
FILE- In this Sept. 29, 2020, file photo, Cleveland Indians' Carlos Santana exits the batting cage before Game 1 of an American League wild-card baseball series against the New York Yankees in Cleveland. The Cleveland Indians have declined contract options on Brad Hand and first baseman Carlos Santana for next season, decisions that will initially cut $27 million from the team's payroll. (AP Photo/David Dermer, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Royals and veteran first baseman Carlos Santana have agreed to a $17 million, two-year contract that plugs one of their biggest offensive holes while providing some clubhouse leadership for a rebuilding club.

The 34-year-old Santana was an All-Star two years ago in Cleveland, when he hit a career-best .281 with 34 homers and 93 RBIs. But he slid to .199 with eight homers and 30 RBIs while playing 60 games during the shortened 2020 season, resulting in the Indians declining his $17.5 million option for the upcoming season.

The Royals were in the middle with a .244 team average last season, but they hit just 68 home runs and were tied with — coincidentally — the Indians for the sixth-worst scoring offense in the majors.

“One of our objectives this offseason was to add a middle-of-the-order bat, someone that would blend in well with our current group, make us a lot better,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “Carlos certainly does that.”

Santana should fill both an offensive need and defensive hold for the Royals. They had been toying with the possibility of moving Hunter Dozier to first base, but that would merely create another vacancy at third base and in the outfield, where they already have one to plug following the retirement of left-fielder Alex Gordon.

“He was one of the primary targets for us when we began to make offseason plans,” Moore said. “You know, once we began our season, we started talking mid-to-late July (about) players that would potentially fit for us. Carlos's name was at the forefront of that based on the opportunity that we perceived that would perhaps present itself for us — middle of the order, switch hitter, highly professional. Winning-type player.”

The Royals are very familiar with Santana from his time in the AL Central. He hit 216 homers with 710 RBIs during 10 seasons with the Indians, and he's been durable in playing at least 143 games every season but his rookie year and this past season, when he still suited up for every game for Cleveland.

Another bonus? The Royals won't have him in the other dugout anymore. Santana has hit .288 with 31 homers and 93 RBIs in 151 career games against them, the best of any team in the division.

The Royals also had the inside track on negotiations because Rene Francisco, their vice president and assistant GM, signed Santana as an amateur free agent when he was with the Los Angeles Dodgers in August 2014.

“That made the start-up of the conversation go extremely well,” Moore said.

For years one of the quietest teams in free agency, the Royals have been on an early spending spree under new owner John Sherman. Relief pitcher Mike Minor signed an $18 million, two-year deal and outfielder Michael Taylor a $1.75 million deal for next season, and nearly all their arbitration-eligible players are under contract.

That includes an $8.05 million contract for slugger Jorge Soler and a $3.35 million deal for staff ace Brad Keller.

“I've said many times, ‘Free agency is a flawed way to build your team,’” Moore said. “That's why this offseason we've tried to do it from the top down. We've tried to add some guys that had a little more impact. Two-year deals, we have a little more flexibility in 2022 than we have in 2021, just because of the economics of the game, but financially we're in a position to add a little more money, a little more flexibility in the payroll.”

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