GLENDALE, Ariz. — Hector Santiago was traded away from the White Sox, made an All-Star team, shut down his former team (a few times) and hurt his back.
Now Santiago is back with the South Siders, signed Wednesday to a minor league deal that comes with an invite to spring training. As White Sox pitchers and catchers reported to Camelback Ranch, a familiar face was on the way.
Santiago's addition is no small thing. While there's no guarantee he'll be a part of the White Sox roster on Opening Day, the team's needs seem to indicate he's got a good chance to be among the 25 who break camp and head to Kansas City for the season opener.
While nearly every role in the White Sox bullpen is up for grabs, there seemed to be few if any who fit the bill of a long reliever. Santiago, though he's had his best days as a starter, would figure to slide into that long-relief spot. But his versatility is what made him a desirable addition for the White Sox during this epically slow offseason. Should any injuries befall the expected starting rotation of James Shields, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, Miguel Gonzalez and Carson Fulmer — with a recovering Carlos Rodon waiting in the wings — Santiago would figure to be among the best options to fill in.
"The versatility has a great deal of appeal," general manager Rick Hahn said during a Wednesday press conference. "Obviously, he's had success including an All-Star season as a starter in the American League. We saw first-hand how valuable he can potentially be in various roles, whether it's in the rotation or the bullpen. The versatility certainly had an appeal to us and as a player we drafted and helped develop, I think we have a special fondness for Hector. He's a tremendous, tremendous individual and a great fit in the clubhouse."
Santiago was drafted by the White Sox in 2006 and spent his first three big league seasons on the South Side before getting dealt away in the Adam Eaton trade. During his first stint with the White Sox, he made 78 appearances, only 27 of which were starts. He made the 2015 AL All-Star squad with the Los Angeles Angels, posting a 3.59 ERA that season with 162 strikeouts in 180.2 innings.
Santiago made 33 starts with the Angels and Minnesota Twins in 2016 but only pitched 15 times last season while dealing with a back injury. Hahn said Wednesday that Santiago is recovered from that injury and will be full go once he reports, which could be as early as Thursday.
Santiago and Gonzalez make two former White Sox back in the fold for the 2018 campaign. The South Siders added Gonzalez earlier this offseason after trading him away last summer. The White Sox knew what they were getting in these guys, and the duo has familiarity with pitching coach Don Cooper.
"It does play some role," Hahn said. "Hector's got probably more experience out of the pen and more versatility. Gonzo having been in this clubhouse, he fit well and it's obviously comfortable for him with the role going forward."
But maybe the best thing about the White Sox bringing Santiago back is that they don't have to face him anymore. In seven starts against his former team, Santiago is 5-1 with a 1.59 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 45.1 innings.
So a positive move on all fronts.