Sergio Santos, one of the few bright spots for a mess of a White Sox team this season, received a big payday on Friday.
General manager Kenny Williams inked the right-handed reliever to a three-year deal worth $8.25 million with three club options that run through 2017.
Santos was drafted in the first round of the 2002 draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks as a shortstop and came over to Chicago as a free agent in 2009. He was traded briefly to the San Francisco Giants two months later, and traded back to the White Sox a week and a half after that.
Santos made the move from shortstop to pitcher in 2009 and after seven years in the minors as an infielder, made it up to the big leagues as a reliever after just one season.
Santos quietly dominated in 2010, chalking up 56 strikeouts in 51 innings with a 2.96 ERA.
Coming into spring training in 2011, it was a free-for-all in the newly stacked bullpen. Matt Thornton and Chris Sale were the hot names heading in, flamethrowing lefties who were favorites to snag ninth inning duties.
Jesse Crain was the top bullpen acquisition, signed from the Minnesota Twins.
Once again, Santos laid low.
He said he was using the spring to work on his command, lower his walk rate. If the closer position was open, he’d love to have a shot at it.
All Santos did was not allow a run all spring, the only White Sox pitcher who really impressed consistently in the Cactus League.
Thornton received large compensation in mid-March, essentially handing him the closer’s role, which was announced a week or so later.
But Thornton and Sale….in addition to every other bullpen arm, struggled early in the season – all but Santos.
He continued his scoreless streak from spring training into the regular season for his first 16 appearances and started earning ninth-inning duties in late April.
Santos had his market correction, a four-run blow-up against the Dodgers on May 20, but settled right back down by putting up six goose eggs to follow up the nightmarish performance. He showed manager Ozzie Guillen that he had the closer’s mentality.
He finished 2011 with a 3.55 ERA, 92 strikeouts and 30 saves in 63 appearances – 63 1-3 IP.
Santos’ walk-rate decreased from 4.5/9 IP to 4.1 and his strikeout rate skyrocketed from 9.8/9 to 13.1 as he continues to master command of a devastating slider.
The future is bright for the 28-year-old and the White Sox made a great decision by rewarding his hard work and giving him incentive to continue to grow as the closer of the future.
Under the terms of the agreement, Santos will receive $1 million in 2012, $2.75 million in 2013 and $3.75 million in 2014. The White Sox hold a $6-million club option in 2015, an $8-million option in 2016 and an $8.75-million option in 2017. Santos was scheduled to be arbitration eligible following the 2012 season and eligible for free agency following the 2015 season.
Santos will receive a $750,000 buyout payment if any of the three club options are declined by the club.