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December 6, 2011

Transaction Analysis

Swapping Santos

by R.J. Anderson and Kevin Goldstein

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IN THIS ISSUE

American League

CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Team Audit | Player Cards | Depth Chart
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Traded P-R Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays for P-R Nestor Molina. [12/6]

Molina has been one of the representatives of the divide between stats and scouts when it comes to some prospects. On the surface, one sees a 22-year-old who reached Double-A last year while putting up a 2.21 ERA and racking up more than 10 strikeouts per nine inning. Unfortunately, in the land of prospects, what you do is often trumped by how you do it, and in Molina's case, the stuff falls well below the statistics.

That's not to say that Molina is a bad prospect. He has well above-average command of a wide range of pitches. His velocity is average to slightly-above at 88-93 mph, but the pitch plays up due to his ability to sink and cut the ball while still locating it. He'll throw both a curveball and slider, both of which are average offerings, but his change is already plus, and he'll mix in an impressive split change. He throws strikes, mixes all of his pitches, and keeps hitters off balance, but that said, he's very good at what he does, projecting as a future No. 4 starter with some chances of being a three. It's telling that that combination makes him Chicago's best starting pitcher prospect by a wide margin.

TORONTO BLUE JAYS
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Acquired P-R Sergio Santos from the White Sox for P-R Nestor Molina. [12/6]

Remember how the Jays were shocked at the asking prices for top free agent closers earlier in the offseason? Alex Anthopoulos told Bob Elliot about the Jays’ studies when it came to long-term reliever deals and how they were just tinkering with the idea of adding a closer. Elliot wrote at the time that it appeared Toronto’s best option would be to acquire a closer through trade. Like clockwork, Santos—fresh off a 30-save season—is heading to Toronto.

This is the second time the Jays have acquired Santos in a trade. The first came nearly six years ago, when the Diamondbacks sent Santos (and Troy Glaus) to the Great White North for Orlando Hudson and Miguel Batista. Santos had been a top-100 prospect as a shortstop back then but would fall out of the system before reaching the majors. Eventually, he made his way into the White Sox’ organization, where they converted him to the mound. They say the rest is history, but Santos’s legacy is still mostly unwritten. 

Santos has fanned 148 batters over his 115 major league innings, giving him 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Amongst relievers with 100-plus innings pitched over the last two seasons, Santos’s strikeout rate trails only Carlos Marmol, David Robertson, and Rafael Betancourt. His adjusted-earned run average is less impressive at 130, although he keeps company with Drew Storen, Francisco Cordero, Jonathan Papelbon, and Marmol. Adding to the fuzzy feelings about Santos is the extension he signed in September.

Saying that Santos’s contract is the antithesis of the free agent relief market seems accurate. It provides a set cost over the next three seasons at a reasonable rate ($8.25 million) and then a good deal of security with three club options. The highest of the club option years is valued at $8.75 million in 2017. Given the contracts signed by Papelbon and Heath Bell this offseason, it isn’t out of the question to think that Santos will look like a real bargain in 2017 should he stay hearty and hale and productive.

As Anthopoulos indicated to Elliot, giving a relief pitcher a five-year deal may only assure him for four seasons. The same could be true for Santos. Although Santos is relatively new to pitching—and therefore has less mileage on his arm than the typical 28-year-old reliever—he delivers the ball with max effort. That may or may not lead to problems down the road, but it is something to keep in mind. Of course, even if Santos is hurt, the Jays could have an out thanks to those nifty club options. In the interim, they’d much rather Santos continue to pitch like one of the filthiest relievers in baseball.


R.J. Anderson is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see R.J.'s other articles. You can contact R.J. by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Sergio Santos,  Nestor Molina

5 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Nick Wernham

Santos will only be 29 this July, does not have a lot of work on his arm because he switched to pitching so late and did so as a reliever, is on a very good contract (three reasonably priced years and three not ridiculously priced team options through 2017) and is already an excellent reliever. He looks to be every bit the bullpen ace that the team wanted to add and it comes at a lower cost than someone like the Athletics' Andrew Bailey might have while also providing more cost certainty going forward.

If the Jays' scouting department thinks that Molina projects as a very good reliever rather than as a starting pitcher then this trade makes a whole lot of sense to me. They’re giving up a guy who they hope will be Sergio Santos in exchange for the genuine article. They get the same number of years of control over the reliever as they would have got with Molina (albeit at a higher cost than Molina would have been in his pre-arbitration/arbitration years). They also get him right now instead of needing to wait on Molina.

If, on the other hand, the Jays think that Molina has the potential to be an impact starter then they are giving up some potential long term reward in exchange for more certainty. The deal is still understandable, particularly if the Jays believe they have a chance to contend in the next couple of seasons, but obviously the risk is that Molina becomes a frontline starter. If that happens then the trade can still work out for the Jays provided Santos performs and the team wins, partially due to his contributions, in the near future.

This looks to me like one of the following is the case:
1) The White Sox think that Molina has a future as at least a good starting pitcher while the Jays are pretty convinced that he'll wind up in the bullpen. They prefer to get the upside on him now in the form of Santos even if it means spending a bit more money on that piece.
2) The Jays are convinced that they can win soon and think that Santos can be one of the last few ingredients that they need. They like Molina, possibly even as a starter, but would rather have Santos now, especially given that they have a lot of depth in terms of minor league arms.

Dec 06, 2011 12:01 PM
rating: 1
 
onegameref

On the surface it looks like the Sox gave up more than the Jays with ML reliever for minor prospect. It seems KW could have tried to pry at least another athlete from the Jays to help flesh out his system. Alas another opportunity to get a better bargain let go by KW. Who will wind up as the magical closer for the Sox now? Thornton? Crain? The other former Jay? We shall see soon enough.

Dec 06, 2011 12:42 PM
rating: 2
 
Behemoth

Molina is more than a minor prospect. There are a variety of opinions on his potential, some of which are higher than Kevin's - John Sickels, for example, has Molina as the second best Toronto prospect in a very good farm system. In any case, if you get a solid cost-controlled starter out of the deal, that's a pretty good return for any reliever.

Also, there's really no way of knowing whether the White Sox asked for more or not. Personally, I think they would be better to take one good prospect than three or four lottery tickets.

Whoever closes this year is not really important, if they really are trying to rebuild. In the longer term, Addison Reed looks very likely to get the job.

Dec 07, 2011 04:28 AM
rating: 0
 
Reed Mantle

Reed becomes the closer now. I bet they like him a lot more than Santos too.

Dec 06, 2011 15:01 PM
rating: 1
 
onegameref

I should have extended the statement to be minor league prospect. I too believe he looks like a good to excellent prospect based on the numbers. It would be nice for the Sox to have a pitching prospect with decent to good stuff and solid command. Things may be looking up if Dunn can find an acorn once in a while next season...40 times at least.

Dec 07, 2011 13:39 PM
rating: 0
 
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