Hector Santiago has officially been named the White Sox closer by manager Robin Ventura, ending the mystery of who will get the last out of the game in 2012. The left-hander with a fastball in the mid 90's, a swooping hook and a screwball became a candidate for the role late in spring training. He picked up his first major league save Saturday night against the Texas Rangers, needing just 11 pitches to nail down the victory.
After the game, Ventura said he likes Santiago in that role because it allows the rest of the bullpen guys to stay in their current roles.
Specifically, the pitchers Ventura is talking about are right-hander Jesse Crain and southpaw Matt Thornton. The two spent the majority of last season as the primary setup men for closer Sergio Santos. They are veterans of the game, each starting their ninth year in the majors, and will be looked upon to lead a young bullpen that includes Santiago, Addison Reed, Nate Jones and Zach Stewart.
The person most directly affected by Santiago being named closer is Thornton. He was the popular choice heading into spring training to earn the closer role after opening up 2011 with that title. He was an All-Star in 2010 and is considered one of the best setup men in the game today. He has an effortless delivery that sees his fastball routinely hit 98 mph, and he's equally tough on right-handed hitters as he is on lefties.
For everything Thornton means to the Sox, he might end up being the one guy in the bullpen that won't finish out the season with the team. The White Sox are in a rebuilding-while-trying-to-win mode and will look to make any move to improve the ballclub for the future. General Manager Kenny Williams traded Carlos Quentin and Sergio Santos this offseason and didn't re-sign Mark Buehrle, one of the franchises' best pitchers, when he became a free agent.
The Sox also have three left-handers in the bullpen in Santiago, Thornton and Will Ohman, which is considered a luxury in today's game. Thornton is by far the most polished of the trio and will bring the biggest bounty on the open market. If forecasters are correct and the White Sox are out of playoff contention at the trade deadline, then a team in need of a quality bullpen arm will most certainly come calling.
As long as they perform, the rest of the bullpen should be unaffected by the closer decision. Crain will remain the seventh/eighth inning guy, Ohman will be the situational left-hander and Reed, Stewart and Jones will look to earn Ventura's trust to be used in pressure situations. If Santiago does struggle in the closer role, then you will probably see Addison Reed getting the next shot at the job.
For Matt Thornton to remain on the White Sox through the end of the 2012 season, they will have to defy the critics and be in playoff contention the entire season. Even though Williams has said the team will be rebuilding, the gambler in him will not trade away a lock-down, late-inning guy if he has a chance to win now.