09/30/11 6:45 PM ET
New deal adds to Santos' storybook tale
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
Santos, 28, and the White Sox agreed on a three-year, $8.25 million deal, with club options for 2015-17. Under the terms of the agreement, Santos will earn $1 million in 2012, $2.75 million in 2013 and $3.75 million in 2014. The club option for 2015 stands at $6 million, with an $8 million option for 2016 and an $8.75 million option in 2017. If any of the three club options are declined, then Santos receives a $750,000 buyout.
It's a good deal for the hard-throwing right-hander, who completed his first year as closer with a 4-5 record, 3.55 ERA in 63 1/3 innings and 30 saves. It's an amazing story, when considering that until the 2009 season, Santos wasn't even a pitcher.
"This is really exciting, and it does sound like a movie script," said Santos by phone from his California home. "I truly feel so blessed.
"There are way too many people to thank: my wife, my brothers, my parents. It's a big supporting cast. They helped me through the tough times. And in these good times, when there's good news like this, it makes it even more worthwhile that they can enjoy it with me."
Those 30 saves posted by Santos over 36 chances made him the eighth pitcher in White Sox history to reach that late-inning plateau (16th time overall). His 92 strikeouts in 63 appearances ranked Santos second among American League relievers, and his 13.07 strikeouts per nine innings placed him third. Santos finished sixth with a .181 average against, but limited right-handed hitters to a .132 average (15-for-114) over the course of the season.
From April 2 to Aug. 30, Santos set a Major League record with 25 straight scoreless road appearances to start the season that covered 26 2/3 innings. He assumed the closer's role from Matt Thornton in late April, but Thornton saw that move as a distinct possibility -- based on Santos' 2.96 ERA and 56 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings during his big league debut in 2010.
"I remember saying last year that I knew Sergio was the closer of the future for the Chicago White Sox," Thornton said. "What he did his first year, his stuff, it was absolutely amazing. They just didn't want to put that label on a guy in his second year."
"You know, it's weird to say, but I've always had this confidence and belief that I will make it," Santos said. "I just thought it would be as a shortstop or third baseman, never as a pitcher."
White Sox director of player development Buddy Bell was the one who suggested Santos become a pitcher. Santos was drafted 27th overall by the D-backs in the 2002 First-Year Player Draft, but then spent seven Minor League seasons trying to prove his worth as an infielder. Santos remembers a conversation had at the time with his wife, Kristen, where she told him that there was no looking back once he made the change.
"She told me how much she believed in me," said Santos of his wife's words of encouragement.
Now, Kristen is 13 weeks pregnant with the couple's third child, joining Kalani and Jayden. Add in the new deal buying out two of Santos' arbitration years that would have begun after the 2012 season, not figuring in the three option years, and it's going to be a happy holiday season in the Santos' household.
"Really, this is about as good of a time as it gets," said Santos, who would have been eligible for free agency following the 2015 season.
All of this present good feeling doesn't block out Santos' quest for improvement. His first season as closer ended with a 9.35 ERA and two blown saves in September, including ninth-inning home runs by Ryan Raburn and Miguel Cabrera at Comerica Park on Sept. 3 that completed the Tigers' comeback from seven runs down for a 9-8 victory.
Chris Sale looks to be headed to the 2012 starting rotation, meaning Santos will have to face more left-handed hitters late in the game. That matchup has Santos focused on sharpening his changeup during the upcoming offseason, giving him another option against lefties to go with his 95-97-mph fastball and his devastating slider.
As for the assumption that he is the closer for 2012, let alone the length of this contract, well, there are no assumptions coming from Santos. He knows that a new manager will have to be impressed by his work in order to keep this storybook tale moving forward.
"I'm going to go in and fight for it, and until they call me in and tell me I'm the closer, I'll assume it's not my job and earn it," said Santos, who was approached by the White Sox about the new deal at the All-Star break. "I'll be completely focused this offseason and not let myself think, 'I got this made.'
"They always say you play hard to help your family out for the rest of your life. Once you get that, you want to prove you're worth it. I feel I can get so much better. That's my drive. I want to be the best at what I do. That fire inside me, it pushes me and keeps me going and motivated."