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Even after the White Sox released their list of non-roster invitees, their spring training cattle call looked a little short on spot starters.
If everybody who is currently healthy makes it to Opening Day in full working order, Carson Fulmer would be the fifth starter on paper, which is fine. He finished last year with a string of great starts. Even if that success wasn’t sustainable, something will be gained from failures.
That scenario has Fulmer occupying starts that would’ve been made by Carlos Rodon. (Rodon was throwing on the first day of pitchers and catchers in front of Don Cooper, so he’s already in better shape than last year, even if he won’t be ready by Opening Day.)
If Rodon were the only health question mark, the Sox could get by with less immediate depth. The rub is that Rodon wasn’t the only pitcher who spent significant time on the disabled list in 2017. In fact, of the White Sox’ top five starters, Lucas Giolito was the only one to make it through the entirety of the season without hitting the shelf.
Even if we account for Michael Kopech busting down the wall like the Kool-Aid Man, the Sox will still need a few spot starters during the first half of the season. Chris Volstad came back, and T.J. House is in the house, but there isn’t much recent MLB success or projectability there.
So that’s one thing Hector Santiago addresses in his return to the organization that drafted him in the 30th round and raised him to be worth Adam Eaton in a trade. The White Sox signed him to a minor-league contract on Wednesday, and it’s a popular move for a popular guy.
Santiago pitched poorly for Minnesota, posting a 5.61 ERA in 26 starts over 1½ seasons following a midseason trade between the Twins and Angels. Rick Hahn set the stage for a comeback by pointing to a back injury:
“He felt he got it resolved around mid-September, but it was too late in the season for it to really show on the field,” Hahn said. “He feels like everything’s resolved and our doctors are fairly comfortable with the diagnosis and prognosis going forward.”
It was described as upper thoracic back pain last season, and the two-month stay on the disabled list — his second of the season — more or less capped off a frustrating time in Minnesota. Prior to that DL stint, he had butted heads with Paul Molitor over a quick hook and defensive shifting.
While he was a fan favorite in Chicago, those watching the Twins weren’t enamored with him, especially those who thought they could have non-tendered him before the 2017 season.
Hector Santiago, who had a 5.61 ERA in 132 innings for the Twins during the past two seasons, has signed a minor-league deal with the White Sox. In one year he went from the Twins willingly choosing to give him $8 million to accepting a minor-league deal from a rebuilding team.
— Aaron Gleeman (@AaronGleeman) February 14, 2018
That context sounds a lot like the one accompanying Mike Pelfrey last year, even down to the dollar amount. The difference is that Pelfrey had been let go from the Tigers in the second year of a two-year deal, but the disenchantment is just about the same.
That’s where I’m starting my level of expectations, because even when Santiago was younger and healthier, he had to work hard to make his brand of pitching successful. His approach is based on deceptive velocity and nibbling, which gives him a chance to beat his FIP on a regular basis by stranding a ton of runners. The trade-off: He sported one of the highest averages of pitches per plate appearance, costing him an inning a start at times.
I didn’t expect that approach to age well, which is why I liked the Eaton trade even though I liked Santiago. Consistency in logic dictates that I shouldn’t expect much from the 30-year-old version.
That said, he isn’t returning with high expectations. Hahn is free to pitch a comeback because there aren’t yet any ramifications for having Santiago around. He doesn’t cost any notable sum of money, he’s not yet on the 40-man roster, and while there’s a clear path to the 25-man as a left-handed swingman, the full 40-man means he’ll have to barge his way in by proving himself healthy.
If Santiago can get there, he’ll help even by just throwing two or three innings a couple times a week. Shooting higher, if he can somehow regain his past form as a starter who could prevent runs for five to six innings at a time, then it’s a bit of flexing for Hahn akin to Kenny Williams’ magical yo-yo act with Freddy Garcia. He sold high on Garcia to Philadelphia after the 2006 season for Gavin Floyd and Gio Gonzalez, then re-signed the crafty veteran version of Garcia for 200 decent back-end innings over the 2009 and 2010 seasons.