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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

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