Anthopoulos Gets Closer and Flexiblity

Barely two months after signing Sergio Santos to a three-year extension worth a guaranteed $8.25 million, the Chicago White Sox have traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for pitching prospect Nestor Molina. Eno Sarris has you covered from the White Sox perspective, so let’s look at the deal through the scope of Alex Anthopoulos and the Toronto Blue Jays.

Last winter, the Jays acquired the tandem of Jon Rauch and Frank Francisco to handle the late inning duties. Rauch was largely disappointing in his 52 innings of work, managing a 5.26 FIP. His 12.9% HR/FB was well above his career average, but a 4.56 xFIP shows that he was mediocre even if his home-run rate was a bit fluky.

Essentially traded for Vernon Wells (by way of Mike Napoli, whoops!), Francisco provided the Jays with much better production than Rauch. Although he too experienced a higher than usual HR/FB rate, Francisco posted 3.80 FIP with a much more manageable 3.36 xFIP. Despite the gap in performance, the two relievers shared nearly identical workloads in terms of innings pitched and leverage index.

Not satisfied with the results from a season ago “AA” made acquiring an elite back-end reliever a high priority this off-season. Toronto initially expressed interest in pursuing an established free agent closer; however, wisely balked at the asking price in both yearly commitment and salary. Instead of dollars, the team paid a potentially steep price in talent for their acquisition of closer Sergio Santos.

Admitting as much in the post-trade press conference, Anthopoulos said the flexibility of Santos’ contract was a fit or what the Blue Jays are trying to do more so than anything else, and he would have not parted with a talent like Molina without that flexibility. In general, trading a potential middle-of-the rotation prospect for a relief pitcher is a bad process; however, considering Santos’ talent level and contract status, the Jays are acquiring a potentially elite high-leverage reliever at salary well below the market rate for a significant length of time.

At a guaranteed $8.25 million over the next three seasons, Santos will likely be one of the biggest bullpen bargains if he continues to progress as a true relief ace. Beyond the guaranteed portion of the deal, the club holds three options worth a total of $22.75 million. Should Santos produce at his expected level, the back end of the contract may still prove palatable for Toronto even with the escalating salary. Meanwhile, if the club does not feel Santos is worth the risk, they can terminate the agreement after the 2014 season.

Another nifty aspect of the deal for the Jays is the structure in which the options are set up. Unlike some contracts that require options picked up in bulk, the team can decide on Santos’ options on a year-to-year basis. At any time after the guaranteed portion of the contract, Toronto can pay a modest $750,000 to buy out of the deal. Of course, the team could also choose to exercise an option(s) and then attempt to trade him if they feel they can get value that way as well.

If Molina becomes a perennial 2-3 win starter for the White Sox, Toronto will come out on the short end of the deal even of Santos can improve on his 2011 performance. At the same time, the Blue Jays – with a core group of talent in place right now – are in position to make a move in the American League, and Santos brings immediate improvement that Molina may not provide for some time, if ever. “We certainly had a split camp internally” said Anthopoulos.” “There were a lot of heated debates in the room about it, but ultimately, I just felt with everything that we have going on, this makes sense for us.”




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Tommy Rancel also writes for Bloomberg Sports and ESPNFlorida.com. Follow on twitter @TRancel


29 Responses to “Anthopoulos Gets Closer and Flexiblity”

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  1. CircleChange11 says:

    What do the Blue Jays know that I don’t with their trading of Starting Pitchers?

    When I look at their team, that’s what I see they need the most.

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    • SC2GG says:

      Probably quite a bit, one would think.

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    • tdotsports1 says:

      Circle, the Jays system is ripe with arms of the same ilk as Molina, if not quite a few who project to be better. They are dealing from strength (at least in the minors).

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      • Nik says:

        There is also the old adage that there is no such thing as a Pitching Prospect. The burnout/injury attrition rate is just too high. What I’m trying to say is that the more bullets you have in the gun, the better.

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      • Antonio Bananas says:

        The Jays have depth in their farm pitching, but they don’t have a guy like shelby miller or julio teheran. Plus, good SP prospects should, at least, make good RP some day right? Look at Aaron Crow, solid SP prospect, turn him into a RP where he can throw max effort every time, he’s a studly RP.

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    • sketch says:

      The Jays saw Molina as a guy with numbers well above where his stuff dictates he should produce, with a violent arm motion that could very well lead to injury. They didn’t view him as an MLB starter. Their farm boasts a lot of prospects which will likely be used to flip for a starter as the Jays become buyers at the trade deadline next summer.

      Then we have Mills for Mathis which I don’t really understand despite Mills inability to produce in MLB. Going back further, Marcum for Lawrie is a no-brainer since the kid is unbelievable, and we have Halladay for a bunch of prospects which again makes sense because you can’t just let a talent like that walk with no more compensation than 2 draft picks.

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    • Nohd says:

      Perhaps they are telling you that they think there is a significant chance Molina ends up as a reliever.

      I’m surprised this article didn’t at least mention that there is some doubt about whether Molina will remain a starter.

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    • Statement says:

      #AreUSeriousBro?

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  2. Tommy says:

    The prospect gurus seem split on Molina’s ceiling. Anthopoulos said they viewed him as a middle of the rotation starter so I went with his opinion. Perhaps it was GM speak, but I think he would have a better feel than some of the lists.

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    • Craig says:

      Why would AA say this guy is a reliever if he wants to get maximum trade value for him? If AA comes out and says I think this guy is a reliever long term, your not getting Santos for him. Obviously Anthopoulos would know better about what a prospect is or isn’t, but that’s something he’s gonna keep to himself unless the prospect has Strasburg or Harper pedigree.

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  3. EdwardM says:

    The unknown with Molina is not only “if” he becomes a 2-3 win starter but if he does – when. There is a quiet buzz in Toronto about the Jays right now and ownership has stated that they want to try to take advantage of it sooner rather than later. Admittedly, it’s a dangerous game to play but there comes a time when the casual fan tires of rebuilding and talk of potential stars playing in New Hampshire who may one day, maybe, hopefully develop into MLB regulars.

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  4. Anthony says:

    Why isn’t anyone talking about what this move means in the grander scheme of things?
    It seems to me that dealing Molina for an affordable closer reveals two elements that may well predict what AA’s bigger strategy is. One: it keeps considerable money on the table for the Jays to play with. Two: in dealing an excellent prospect (and Molina undoubtedly is an EXCELLENT prospect), he likely wants to add a stud pitcher (i.e a prospect becomes more expendible if you are adding another great young arm). So what do both of these factors point to? Yu Darvish. If Darvish posts, AA is positioning himself to beat out the Yanks and snag him. You can count on it.

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    • B N says:

      I too think they’re positioning themselves for a big move, but I’m not sure if it’s going to be a pitcher. I previously did not think of them as players for someone like Fielder, but this seems to indicate they might give that a shot after all.

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    • SC2GG says:

      Would you like to buy a bridge?

      I mean, cmon, I think you’re reading a bit much into this. Nostradamus predicts that people will come up with whatever they want to if it fits their own goals, situations, or desires.

      If AA thinks that Darvish is worth it, he’ll get him. If he doesn’t, he won’t. If AA sees a potential elite reliever with cost control available for a high level prospect he can afford to part with, he’ll make the deal. If not, he won’t. It’s really as simple as that.

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      • Anthony says:

        None of us can escape seeing things through our own lenses. That’s a given, and really fruitless to point out. If you were to follow your own advice, no one would give and opinion here, because everyone is limited by their own subjectivism.
        But we are here, and some of us will be right and some will be wrong.
        Let me tell you this, no good GM (and AA looks to be a good GM) makes a decision in a vacuum, any more than a chess player makes a move without thinking many moves ahead. Obviously AA likes Santos for what he brings, but he will only ever by a second-class GM if he can’t think strategically, and make trades that fit into a broader scheme of what he is trying to achieve.
        When you’re up against the Sox and the Yanks, you better make damn well sure that you’re thinking five moves ahead, and that while each trade adds value in its own right, it also positions you for your next move.
        But the proof is in the pudding. Now that Darvish has posted, get back to me when the Jays sign him and we can have another conversation about the limitations of the subjective mind.

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    • rotofan says:

      Darvish will be posted Thursday bur AA has made clear he doesn’t have the OK from ownership to spend big bucks yet. While Rogers has deep pockets, it is also notoriously cheap and has along history outside baseball of short-changing customers in a near-Monopoly situation. I think the Jays would need a very strong season in the coming year, at a minimum, before the purse strings are loosened.

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      • bdawg says:

        Not sure where you’re getting “AA has made clear he doesn’t have the OK from ownership to spend big bucks yet.” I’m sure you’re referring to his “payroll paramaters” comments at the winter meetings. True, AA has an ideal annual payroll Target – who doesnt? But AA also has the ability to make a case with Rogers for any signing that might bring them above that target in a given year. As much as many Jays fans like to think Rogers are cheap, the fact is they aren’t. Plenty of free agent contracts and mega-extensions to look back on as examples. A TV/Media company is all about ratings (which, in turn, generates ad revenue). If AA makes a case that a big free agent will improve the product, Rogers will bite. Payroll parameters are just guidelines. Not an outright NO.

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  5. Nick says:

    Typo: should read 3.36 xFIP

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  6. redbean7 says:

    Tdot, I think “rife” is the word you wanted.

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  7. Brad says:

    Molina is a great prospect, but he’s a 2014 guy. Santos is a next year, and a couple years after, guy. At some point you have to make the decision that you’re not just going to wait for lightning to strike with guys on long projection, but are going to start building for big league strength now. That’s what this move is.

    And I think that’s a trigger that the Jays have to pull. If they’re going to build a contending team, the time is right. You have Bautista, Romero, and Lawrie, a slew of AAA-level guys ready to break, an AL East that looks shaky right now with Boston’s troubles, an aging Yankees, and a stretched Tampa Bay, a young and looking-to-prove-themselves management tandem of AA and Farrell, and platoon players that are spotty but still got it done to the order of 85 and 81 wins in the last two years. Why build for 2014? This is a team 10 wins away from a playoff berth. If you’re not going to pull the trigger and start shopping prospects for big league strength now, when are you?

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    • Earl Sweatshirt says:

      “This is a team 10 wins away from a playoff berth”

      Well, they are in a division where two teams made the playoffs, and another team was a game away from the playoffs. Farrell is still learning and wasn’t a very good in game manager last year, Lawrie hasn’t had a full MLB season, and they are still quite a bit behind NY, TB, and BOS in terms of talent right now. Since when is dealing for a good but not great closer “going for it”? I think AA is great, but people are starting to go out of the way to applaud this deal.

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      • Brad says:

        They are not really quite a bit behind NY, TB, and BOS. They are, in fact, a team consistently netting low-80s in wins, in the toughest division in baseball. In no other division would the Jays be considered talent low – they’d be playoff contenders in just about every other division in baseball. They’re a Cardinals, Padres, Brewers caliber team, they just don’t get the respect because, in the AL East, that gets you fourth place. But like I said, the AL East teams have problems of their own, and there’s no reason to assume that a team that can hang with them for an average of 83 wins over the last two years isn’t in a position to contend given a couple of breaks or a push by ownership.

        As far as Lawrie, that’s true enough, but consider the young players that project high upside. Lawrie, Romero, Morrow, Arencibia, Rasmus, Snyder, Alvarez – and that’s not even getting into AAA. Sure you can nitpick any one of those (I for one would nitpick Snyder and JPA), but it’s not very hard to imagine, say, four of those seven having a hot year, coupled with decent platoon guys and anchored by the best hitter in baseball two years running. At which point these guys are in the hunt against anybody.

        I don’t think this was an earth-shattering deal, but I also think this is a team for whom it makes sense to start dealing prospects for MLB-ready talent that fills vital, and present day, needs (just as it makes sense for the White Sox to rebuild). Like I said, if you’re the Blue Jays, what, precisely, would you be waiting for in terms of making a push?

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      • greenfrog says:

        Misspelling “Snider” as “Snyder” has replaced the Halladay/Halliday conundrum that has plagued discussion boards for years.

        Travis Snider. Chris Snyder. Rinse. Repeat.

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  8. Nick says:

    @Tommy

    If the Jays viewed Molina as a 2-3 SP then I don’t think this deal gets done. The fact that they dealt Molina almost certainly indicates they see him as a RP. That would probably make his ceiling Santos.

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  9. Bob says:

    It’s a strange trade, to me. Yes, the Jays have tremendous minor league pitching talent…but three of their best four are teenagers who have *combined* for a total of five starts above rookieball.

    Deck McGuire was merely OK in AA at age 22, and has fairly serious gopherball tendencies. Hutchison has three starts above A-ball.

    Basically, if I were AA, I’d have been more inclined to deal one of the two (presumably) higher-upside kids (Syndergaard or Nicolino). But maybe they aren’t who Kenny Williams wanted, of course.

    Anyway, if Molina does indeed become a solid #3 starter, the trade is a BIG win for the ChiSox. If Molina is relegated to reliever status, then the Jays come out ahead.

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    • gabriel says:

      “three of their best four are teenagers who have *combined* for a total of five starts above rookieball.”

      This is a little odd, and a little inaccurate. Firstly, I assume you are thinking of Norris, Syndergaard & Nicolino, but with Molina gone they’re packed in with McGuire and Hutchison as the top 5 Jays pitching prospects, and I don’t think there’s any consensus on who ranks where on that list. 3 of 4 sounds a fair bit more impressive than 3 of 5 though. The inaccuracy is that they’ve combined for a total of 5 starts above short-season A, rather than above rookie ball.

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  10. Bob says:

    Valid points…but worthy of rebuttal. ;)

    I could have said, “With the trade of Molina, John Sickels’ top 3 pitching prospects in the organization are all teenagers who…etc…”

    I respect Sickels a lot—but made it 3 outta 4, to play it more conservatively. (And frankly, McGuire does not belong in the top remaining four, to me, at all, base on (1)unspecial stuff, and (2)merely okay professional results, especially relative to his age.)

    As for short-season A-ball, well, that’s neither fish nor fowl, as far as I’m concerned…and not nearly the testing ground for pitchers that the Sally or MWL present. But you’re absolutely right, I shoulda clarified that in the previous post.

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