Toronto Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopolous went into the winter looking for a closer. But when the Phillies and Marlins pushed the free agent market to insane heights, Anthopolous went into the trade market, and today, he came away with his prize: Chicago White Sox closer Sergio Santos. All that Anthopolous gave up to acquire Santos was AA pitcher Nestor Molina, who Mark ranked as “good” on his rankings of the top ten Blue Jays prospects.
First, let’s talk about Santos. The Blue Jays definitely needed a closer. Last year, they made due with the duo of Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco. The pair combined for -0.1 fWAR and a 4.21 ERA on the season, while combining to make $7.75 million on the season. Both are free agents, and won’t be back in town. Enter Santos. The former White Sox closer burst onto the scene last year, and the former shortstop was impressive in his rookie season, with a 2.96 ERA (and 3.10 FIP) and 56 strikeouts in 51 2/3 innings. After early season struggles from incumbent Matt Thornton and young bonus baby Chris Sale, Santos was handed the closer’s role in 2011, and he wouldn’t let it go. He’d finish with a 3.55 ERA, 92 strikeouts and 29 walks in 63 1/3 innings. At the end of the season, the White Sox signed Santos to a three year extension through 2014, for a total of $7.5 million. The deal also has three option years going through 2017 that could allow Santos to make an extra $22.75 million.
So Toronto gets their closer, and he’s going to make less over the next three seasons than their closing duo made combined in 2011. And Santos was a better pitcher than both of them, logging 1.6 fWAR in 2011. By paying him a guaranteed $7.5 million over the next three seasons, the team is banking on him being worth less than 2 fWAR total in three seasons. In his two career seasons, Santos has been worth a total of 2.6 fWAR. The three seasons covered by the contract are also his prime seasons, from the ages of 29 to 31. Barring a catastrophic injury to Santos, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility, due to his fastball that averages 95 miles per hour, this deal makes complete sense for the Blue Jays, but maybe not so much for the White Sox. Santos is relatively young (in comparison to a number of his aging teammates), and controlled pretty cheaply, so why move him? Trading bullpen-mate Matt Thornton might have been a better move, as he’ll make $11 million guaranteed over the next two seasons.
The only reason I can think of for trading Santos, which didn’t even enter my train of thought this offseason for the White Sox, would be that they thought very highly of Nestor Molina, who is the prospect coming to the Sox in the deal. And Molina is a legitimate prospect. He spent the majority of the year with Dunedin in the FSL, but earned a late season callup to New Hampshire of the Eastern League, and was utterly dominant there. For the season at the two levels, Molina had a 2.21 ERA, 148 strikeouts, and just 16 walks in 130 1/3 innings. This was his first year as a full-time starter, and to say it was a success was an understatement. I’d assume he’d start off in AA for the White Sox in 2012, and at just 23 years of age at the beginning of the season, there is no reason to rush him to the majors. Mark projected him as a #3 starter, but other scouts say he could be better suited for the bullpen. The Blue Jays have a glut of young pitching, so trading from a surplus to strengthen the major league team doesn’t seem like a bad move to me.
I love the deal for Toronto, but the jury is out for the White Sox, who could be a rebuilding team in 2012. Will Thornton be the next to go? What about John Danks, who is getting a lot of attention on the trade market? We’ll see as the offseason rolls on.