It seems to work for both sides. Santos is 28, married, has two kids and a third on the way. He also nearly washed out of baseball before reaching the majors, so it makes a lot of sense for Santos to cash in at his first legitimate chance. Ozzie Guillen might disagree, but, c'mon, $8.25 million goes a long way for a family of five.
On the other side of the desk, the White Sox insure themselves against the massive arbitration increases that closers have received in previous years -- if the new manager intends on making Santos the full-time closer, that is.
Here's how they structured the contract:
- 2013: $2.75M
2015: $6M club option ($750K buyout)
2016: $8M club option ($750K buyout)
- 2017: $8.75M club option ($750k buyout)
The Sox will overpay Santos by about $500,000 or so in the first year, but they can expect to save significant money as long as Santos stays productive. Had he gone through the arbitration process with a string of reasonably good seasons to his name, he would probably make somewhere around $6.5 million in 2014 alone. In this contract, that's what the Sox are paying him for his first two arbitration years combined.
To get an idea of how well it can work out, you don't have to even look outside the division. The Kansas City Royals locked up Joakim Soria at the same point in his career back in 2008, and it's almost like the Sox xeroxed his contract and only changed the name.
Soria signed a three-year, $8.75 million deal with three club options. He just finished up the guaranteed portion of it this year, and even with a pedestrian 2011 season (28 saves in 35 opportunities, 1.28 WHIP. 4.08 ERA), he didn't hurt the Royals' bottom line with his $4 million salary. Prior to that point -- holy crap, did he provide some surplus value at the back end of the bullpen! It's just a shame they didn't have meaningful games to save.
And that brings up another bonus -- if Santos continues to refine his approach and turns into a great reliever, he becomes quite tradeable. Not that the Sox would have designs on flipping him, but should an opportunity present itself, a lot of teams would welcome the opportunity to put that contract on their payrolls. The Royals never came closer to discussing a Soria trade, but when the Yankees were looking for bullpen help in 2010, Jesus Montero's name came up, whatever that's worth.
That's the upside for Santos. There's also the chance that he Mike MacDougals it, but Santos doesn't have MacDougal's baggage. He merely carries your standard reliever risk, but it's greatly outweighed by the risk in not signing Santos right now, due to his earning potential through arbitration.
When the Sox announced their plans to convert Santos into a reliever back in 2009, I made a mostly facetious prediction that the Sox had found their Joe Nathan, as both were former shortstops. Well, the best-case scenario is that Santos turns into the 2004-09 version of Nathan. The worst-case scenario is that he turns into 2010-11, Tommy-John-surgery Nathan.
The latter version of Nathan earned $22.5 million over those two years. He didn't pitch for one of them, and he was replacement level in the latter. The Sox will pay Santos the same amount of over the final three years of his contract -- except they're all club options, so a catastrophic surgery won't hang the Sox out to dry.
Really, everybody's best interests are protected should the unfortunate occur -- Santos on the front end of the deal, and the Sox on the back end. If only every multi-year contract could address both sides' needs so sufficiently.