White Sox get Jays pitching prospect for Santos
Molina led Toronto's Minor League system in ERA in 2011
DALLAS -- In the first of what could be a few significant Ken Williams trades at baseball's annual Winter Meetings, hard-throwing White Sox closer Sergio Santos was shipped to the Blue Jays in return for right-handed pitcher Nestor Molina on Tuesday morning.
Santos will take over the ninth inning for a team looking to move up the ranks of the American League East, while the 22-year-old Molina could figure prominently in the White Sox youth movement. Even in the midst of the modified rebuilding phase being put forth by Williams and the White Sox, Santos didn't seem to be in danger of leaving Chicago.
Sure, his name was brought up in the always-churning Hot Stove rumor mill, but then again, who wouldn't want a 28-year-old with a 98-mph fastball who had the guts and fortitude to handle ninth-inning pressure. The White Sox closer also had agreed to a three-year, $8.25 million deal at the end of September, a deal which included three club options, meaning he was potentially under control for the next six years.
Having only pitched for parts of three seasons, the converted infielder possesses less wear and tear on his arm than other hurlers his age. But the White Sox found out on Tuesday that to get a quality player, you often times have to give one up in return.
To add another strange twist to the maneuver, Molina started as an outfielder/third baseman and was converted to the mound by Marco Paddy. It was Paddy, now the special assistant to Williams in charge of international operations, who provided the rundown on Molina's toughness, athleticism and overall makeup.
"Marco is very excited that we got him," said Williams, speaking from a suite at the Hilton Anatole on Tuesday afternoon. "A guy that has a 90- to 96-mph fastball, bores in on right-handed hitters. Keeps the ball down in the strike zone, can hit the inside corner, the outside corner, take it upstairs if he needs to.
"His secondary stuff, he's got a swing-and-miss type split that drops off the table, and he's got a plus slider and a changeup that is equally as effective. He's obviously a four-pitch mix."
According to MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo, Molina immediately jumps in as the No. 2 prospect in the White Sox system. He combined to finish 12-3 with a 2.21 ERA over 130 1/3 innings last season between Class A Dunedin and Double-A New Haven, earning him a spot on the Blue Jays' 40-man roster.
This first full season as a starter for Molina produced 148 strikeouts and a mere 18 walks in 26 games (23 starts), while averaging 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings and featuring an 8.2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Molina allowed three earned runs or less in 20 of his 23 starts.
Williams believes the 6-foot-1, 180-pound Florida State League midseason and postseason All-Star needs a little more Minor League seasoning. But he has the ability to make the quick Major League jump.
"We've got certain guys with abilities that will force their way onto Major League rosters," said Williams of Molina. "When you look at a young pitcher, you look at what kind of stuff he has, what kind of composure he has, and his ability to command the strike zone, and this guy does it in a way that very few do. So I'm not going to say he can't or won't."
Tuesday's departure for Santos means veterans Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton figure to be the leading candidates for White Sox closer, but don't count out Addison Reed. The soon-to-be 23-year-old and third-round selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft impressed during his six-game September appearance last year and stands as the closer of the future.
Reed received an endorsement from the classy incumbent before his move north of the border.
"Addison has a good head on his shoulders and great stuff," said Santos in a phone interview with MLB.com shortly after the trade. "I definitely see him having success learning from who I learned from, Matt and the other guys in the bullpen.
"It's a little weird, but exciting at the same time. The hard part is you sign an extension and like where you are at. I'm thinking that hopefully I can be here for the next six years of the contract, or at least the next three. But this kind of happens in the business side of it. So you move on from there and see what happens."
With Santos and his wife, Kristen, expecting their third child in April, the move to Toronto for the California natives will be a bit of an adjustment. It's nothing compared to moving from seven years of playing shortstop in the Minors to the mound.
Parts of three of those seven years were spent in the Blue Jays system, so Santos has some familiarity with his new locale. He was playing golf Tuesday, on the 10th hole to be precise, when he noticed Williams' phone number come up on his cell.
At that point, Santos knew those remote rumors had come to fruition. That call also might have indicated the beginning of wholesale White Sox changes, in which the native Venezuelan Molina is hoped to play a major future role.
"We had no intention of trading him," said Williams of Santos. "But like I've always said, 'We are open to conversations on any ideas that clubs want to present to us,' and this was one presented to us."
"Like I told [Santos], Kenny Williams was not shopping this player," Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos said. "It's someone that I asked Kenny about for a long time, and it was always a flat 'No.' Finally, you keep having dialogue and dialogue. He swallowed hard and we swallowed hard. As Kenny told me, when we both struggle with it, that's when you know it's probably a fair deal."