Jon Morosi is reporting that the Toronto Blue Jays have acquired Sergio Santos from the Chicago White Sox in exchange for highly rated pitching prospect Nestor Molina. The move represents two clear and different directions for both clubs, with the Jays moving forward to improve their roster and the White Sox beginning their rumoured rebuild in earnest.

Before we look deeper at Santos numbers as a pitcher (he was formerly a shortstop in the Blue Jays orgnaization), we have to mention his incredibly team friendly contract. Santos signed an extension with the White Sox this September that will guarantee him a paltry $8.25 million over the next three  years, with three club options after that. Here’s how it breaks down:

  • 2012: $1 million,
  • 2013: $2.75 million,
  • 2014: $3.75 million,
  • 2015: $6 million club option,
  • 2016: $8 million club option,
  • 2017: $8.75 million club option.

Each option has a $750,000 buyout.

This contract is the very definition of risk mitigation, and it’s a good thing, because as good as Santos’ 95 miles per hour 4-seam fastball might look and as good as his 2.97 career FIP in 115 innings pitched might appear, there is an issue with control and command.

The bad news is that the 28 year old right hander has a high 11.1% walk rate in two seasons. The good news is that he also has a 29.9% career strikeout rate, including the fourth highest strike out rate (35.4%) in the league last season. The good side of relievers like this is David Robertson, Carlos Marmol and Jonny Venters. The bad side of relievers like this is Kevin Gregg, Jose Veras and Miguel Batista.

Fortunately for Blue Jays fans, Santos’ increasing swinging strike numbers have more in common with the good side of that equation than the bad. When you’re capable of striking guys out, the impact of walks isn’t as bad as when you’re pitching to contact.

In order to acquire Santos and fill an immediate need, the Blue Jays give up prospect Nestor Molina, another shortstop converted to pitcher that some fans were prematurely suggesting might be a closing option for Toronto in 2012.

John Sickles of Minor League Ball was especially high on Molina suggesting that:

Ranking the Blue Jays pitching prospects is quite difficult. Although Molina hasn’t received as much press as some of the other guys, his performance was impeccable, I think his stuff is underrated, and he’ll get to the majors sooner than the others. Despite his season, he is still underrated by a lot of people.

New Hampshire Fisher Cats manager Sal Fasano also had this to say:

Nestor is an unbelievable athlete. When he’s on the mound it’s like having a shortstop that’s pitching, which is great. Obviously his numbers speak for themselves– he absolutely dealt when he was with us– but what he is is, he’s a control guy, and he throws strikes, and he’s got a really good split-finger. What he does is, he works so fast, to the point where the hitters are always uncomfortable. So it’s kind of like the old adage of, you know, work fast, throw strikes, and expand the strike zone, and he does it to a T. He does a tremendous job with it, and I’m really excited to see how the competition moves up in Spring Training, and maybe he will have an opportunity.

High praise, indeed. Here’s video of the soon to be 23 year old throwing:

Overall, it appears to be a good deal for both teams, although I’m leaning slightly toward the Blue Jays. Toronto needed bullpen help and as the free agent options grew less and less appealing, the Blue Jays somehow managed to acquire an elite or potentially elite reliever that wasn’t talked about a whole lot as being available.

It hurts to lose a prospect as highly regarded as Molina, and one who completely dominated the Minor League competition he saw at Single A and during his brief 22 inning audition at Double A last season. However, it takes good players to acquire good players, and to some degree, Blue Jays fans have been spoiled with Alex Anthopoulos’ trades to date which haven’t exactly followed that old adage. This one does, but it’s no less of an accomplishment for either side of the trade.

It’s worth mentioning that just as players at the big league level can be traded at the height of their value, so too can prospects. Molina is coming off an incredible season statistically in the Minor Leagues. Progression isn’t always linear though, and domination at one level one level doesn’t mean more domination the next year at a higher level. Having said that, it’s entirely possible that Molina becomes a very good starting pitcher for the White Sox in the future.

The Blue Jays maintain their build up to sustained success and the White Sox now begin their rebuild in earnest. I give the Blue Jays a slight edge for two reasons: 1) the terms of Santos’ contract are outstanding; and 2) the relatively young Santos has only been pitching professionally for three years and the results, already pretty spectacular, appear to be improving.