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June 19, 2013

Painting the Black

The Improbability of the Closer

by R.J. Anderson


Before the 2012 season started the Blue Jays made two long-term decisions affecting their bullpen. First Alex Anthopoulos traded for White Sox closer Sergio Santos, who came to town with a team-friendly contract in place. Then, three months later, Anthopoulos executed a variation of the Santos extension by inking set-up man Casey Janssen to a two-year deal with a club option.

A year and a half has passed and one thing is clear: nobody predicted these deals would turn out the way they did. Since the moves Santos and Janssen have taken divergent paths, with Janssen becoming the Jays closer and Santos moving into the background. It's not the outcome that seemed likely at the time; does that mean there's anything to be learned from it?

The Santos side of things

When the Jays acquired Santos it looked like a steal. Although Santos, a converted shortstop, remained a novice on the mound, he'd dominated over his first two seasons in the majors. From 2010-2011 Santos pitched 115 innings and struck out 148 batters. He showed some wildness, too, stemming from high-effort mechanics, but not enough to detract from his eye-popping strikeout rates. The White Sox were confident enough in Santos' future to sign him to a three-year extension in September 2011 worth $8.25 million with three club option years before he became arbitration eligible.

For whatever reason, the White Sox soon changed their mind on Santos. Or, at the very least, were willing to part with him at a cost that many deemed below market value. Within three months of the extension the White Sox pulled the trigger on the trade that sent Santos to the Blue Jays for Nestor Molina. Molina boasted nice numbers, though scouts painted him as a control-and-command righty with modest upside. While trading starters for relievers is often frowned upon, it made sense for a pitching-rich organization to swap an average starter years away for an impact reliever ready now.

But the problem with Santos' time in

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Premium Article The Prospectus Hit Lis... (06/19)
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Painting the Black: Bi... (06/24)
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