The first time the Blue Jays suggested that Sergio Santos give pitching a try, he pretty much ignored the advice. He was a shortstop, albeit a Minor Leaguer, and that was that. Eventually, he was waived.
Now, after finally moving from the left side of the infield to the mound with the White Sox and discovering it's where he belongs, Santos, with a 2011 resume of 30 saves in 36 opportunities for the White Sox, is back with the Blue Jays as their closer.
The 28-year-old right-hander was traded Dec. 6 for pitching prospect Nestor Molina. The deal caught Santos off guard. On Sept. 30, he'd signed an $8.25 million, three-year contract.
"I was actually on a golf course, and [White Sox GM] Kenny Williams called me and let me know I'd been traded, he said. "My front nine was good, but after I got off the phone, my back nine kind of dropped a little bit.
"Fortunately, I've come to a team where I still know quite a few faces and I know the organization, so it's not going to be a tough transition."
After getting his first taste of the Major Leagues with the White Sox in 2010, Santos nabbed the closer's role. He was second last season among American League relievers in strikeouts with 92 and third in strikeouts per nine innings at 13.14, compliments of a nasty slider and a 95-mph heater.
"Alex [Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays' VP of baseball operations in 2007] first recommended the switch," Santos said. "It was the season when I hit 20 home runs and was having a really good year between Double-A and-Triple-A, and I'd come off a really bad year.
"I felt like, 'I'm bouncing back, coming back.' It just wasn't the right time for me to make that move."
Santos started 2008 with Toronto's Triple-A Syracuse club. The Twins picked him off waivers in May and assigned him to Triple-A Rochester, and he signed as a free agent with the White Sox in January 2009.
Then Buddy Bell, their director of player development, recommended he switch to pitching.
"I still kind of dismissed it, but I told myself, 'All right, I'll throw bullpen and see what they think.' Everything came out great ... but I'd been in Triple-A the last four years," Santos said.
"I knew I was a good season -- or some player's injury -- away from kind of establishing myself in the big leagues. And to have to start all over, to go back to low-A ball ..."
He paused for a moment. "I mean, I was 25 with a wife and two kids. I had different priorities."
But on March 20, he was traded to San Francisco for cash. Twelve days later, he was dealt back to the White Sox for cash.
"I was going to be a utilityman with the Giants, so I said, 'Ya know what? I'm going to give pitching a shot,' and I was able to do that without looking back."
In 2009, Santos rose from the bottom to the top of the Minors, made the big club out of Spring Training in 2010 and, among AL rookie relievers, was first in strikeouts per nine innings (9.75) and second in ERA (2.96) and holds (14).
He said it took "a good four weeks when I was in extended Spring Training in 2009 to adjust to the idea of being a pitcher."
Could he still be a shortstop today?
"I think about it, but can I be it? Probably not," Santos said. "I still want to pick up a bat during BP now and again, but that's the extent of my hitting."
Bruce Lowitt is a freelance writer based in Tampa, Fla.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.