"I always wanted to be here," Polanco said. "I never wanted to leave."
Polanco joined the Phillies in 2002, when they traded Scott Rolen to the Cardinals. He left in '05, when the Phils traded him to the Tigers for Ugueth Urbina and Ramon Martinez.
Polanco is back because the Phils declined the $5.5 million club option on Pedro Feliz, who played third base the previous two seasons in Philadelphia. In a free-agent market that included Chone Figgins, Adrian Beltre, Mark DeRosa and Miguel Tejada, the Phillies focused on Polanco, DeRosa and Beltre, before pushing hard for Polanco.
Polanco, 34, will make $5 million, plus a $500,000 signing bonus, in 2010. He will make $5.25 million in '11 and $6.25 million in '12. The mutual option in '13 is $5.5 million with a $1 million buyout.
"It wasn't about getting the classic third baseman with power," Philadelphia general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said. "We already have that covered at first, at second and even at shortstop. We have power in the corners of our outfield. I think, more than anything else, we got a guy who fits well in our lineup because of the things he can do with his bat and the way he handles it."
Polanco, a career .303 hitter, hit .285 with 10 home runs and 72 RBIs last season with the Tigers. He hit .341 in '07 and .307 in '08. He has a career .348 on-base percentage and a career .414 slugging percentage. He also has been one of the toughest players in baseball to strike out. He has struck out just once every 17.5 plate appearances the past five seasons, which is the second-best mark in the Majors.
Feliz is a career .254 hitter with a .294 on-base percentage and a .422 slugging percentage.
Polanco is an upgrade offensively. He seems likely to hit second, which would allow the Phils to hit Shane Victorino seventh. That would give the club an All-Star in the first seven spots in its lineup.
But what kind of defense will Polanco bring?
He won two Gold Gloves playing second base for Detroit. He has played 322 games at third base, but just nine since 2004.
|"It wasn't about getting the classic third baseman with power. We already have that covered at first, at second and even at shortstop. We have power in the corners of our outfield. I think, more than anything else, we got a guy who fits well in our lineup because of the things he can do with his bat and the way he handles it."|
|-- GM Ruben Amaro Jr.|
Polanco doesn't think it will be a problem.
"They asked me if I wanted to play another position and I said sure," he said. "I've played third base in college. I played third in St. Louis. I also played some third base here. I feel pretty confident about it."
Of the other free-agent options at third base, certainly Beltre was the most qualified. DeRosa has never played a full season at third base. Tejada hasn't played there at all.
"Footwork and his hands," said Amaro, when asked why he is confident Polanco can play third. "His hands are as good as anybody's in baseball. He made two errors last year. He's a guy who can defend. Will he be as good as Pedro? Will he be as consistent as Pedro? I don't know that, but I do know that if he is not at the outset, he will make himself as good a defensive [player] that he possibly can."
Polanco will be 36 at the end of the 2012 season. Raul Ibanez, who signed a three-year contract last winter, will be 39 when his contract expires in '11.
"There is some risk going with older guys," Amaro said. "But again, this is a guy who takes care of himself. If it was somebody who wasn't dedicated to his craft, then it would be different. But guys like Ibanez and Polanco -- and really, going up and down our lineup -- these are guys who are dedicated to what they do. As long as they take care of themselves, and I think they will, you hope you have continued production from him."
But another reason the Phillies felt OK giving Polanco a three-year deal is that they simply don't have anybody coming up through their system who they see playing third base in the next couple seasons. The Phils had kicked around the idea of Jason Donald possibly being that guy, although he is a natural shortstop.
The Phillies sent Donald to Cleveland in the Cliff Lee trade, which ended that possibility.
Polanco smiled wide after Thursday's news conference at Citizens Bank Park. He recalled how Ibanez, who lives a couple blocks away from Polanco in South Florida, sold him hard on the Phillies.
"'Buddy, you've got to go there,'" Polanco recalled Ibanez telling him. "'The place is awesome. The chemistry there is better than you told me.'"
Polanco already knew that. That is why he wanted to come back.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.