White Sox Trade Santos, Start the Rebuild Process

The White Sox traded Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays for prospect Nestor Molina today. It was a bold move, not only because of the particulars of the trade, but because of the implications. For a hyper-competitive General Manager like Kenny Williams, it must be hard to admit that it’s time for a rebuild. At least he seems comfortable with it.

The trade at first seems like a head-scratcher. Santos is signed to three-year, $8.25M contract through 2014, with three options that could raise the deal to $30 million over the next six years. Even among relievers, who don’t usually average more than two wins a season, the contract should remain reasonable throughout. It’s a team-friendly homecoming for Santos, who was an infielder in the Toronto organization before he was converted — successfully — to relief in Chicago. Why trade such a valuable piece?

The return is exciting. Molina was given a B+ ranking from John Sickels, who rated him the second-best prospect in the Jays’ organization. In 130.1 innings between High-A and Double-A last year, Molina struck out 148 batters against a mere 16 walks. At 23 next year, he might only need a little more seasoning at Double-A before he can join the big leagues.

If he stays a starter, Molina will only need to be worth about as much as Paul Maholm has been worth over the last six years (13.2 WAR) in order to surpass Santos’ absolute value. Paul Maholm never had a minor league K/BB rate like Molina’s and was never a top-two prospect for the Pirates, but it’s still possible that Molina as a starter doesn’t achieve those heights.

And it is this uncertainty that shifts the needle back to equal. Molina may be a starter, or he may be a reliever. Scouts are divided on his stuff — is he a pitchability guy that has great control and decent stuff, or is he something more — and it’s even possible that a little recoil in his delivery might send him to the bullpen, in which case the value on this trade shifts towards Toronto.

One last point about the trade itself. As good as Santos’ contract seems, $30 million over six years would only provide great surplus value if he continues to average 1.6 WAR per season for the next six years. He’s only 28 years old, but the fact remains that only four closers — J.J. Putz, Matt Thornton, Mariano Rivera and Jonathan Papelbon — have averaged 1.6+ WAR over the past six years. Francisco Rodriguez, Joe Nathan, Rafael Betancourt and Jonathan Broxton have all managed over 1.5 WAR, and with Santos’ strikeout rate he could join the group.

If we give Santos nine WAR over the next six years, and $10-15 million in surplus value at current dollar/WAR numbers, the deal seems fair. In 2008, Victor Wang found that the surplus value on a Grade B prospect from Sickels was $7.3 million. Add the plus in, and inflation, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to call the trade fair.

But the questions still remains: why start the rebuilding process by trading Santos, the most reasonable and valuable trade chip the White Sox might have? The answer might lie with perception.

Once a team begins a rebuild process openly, the vultures begin to swarm. Going forward, the White Sox will receive buy-low offers on virtually every one of their major league players on veteran contracts. They may complete some of those trades, but the perception of their team as rebuilding will shift the power towards the buyers. In other words: if they were deep in an obvious rebuilding process, their stance that Santos was very important to their team wouldn’t hold much water in negotiations.

So if you have one really good trade chip on a team mostly made up of also-ran veterans on iffy contracts, it could make sense to trade your one good piece first. For the best prospect you can find. And then you announce that you are rebuilding, so that you can field the less exciting offers for the rest of your team.

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62 Responses to “White Sox Trade Santos, Start the Rebuild Process”

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  1. Steve says:

    Might want to also note that everyone except for Sickels rates Nestor Molina in the 20’s ish among Jays prospects and see’s him as a back end starter or reliever.

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    • Eno Sarris says:

      It’s true, I couldn’t find him on any lists really. The problem with this is that he had a great 2011 and most of the lists were from before this year, no?

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      • Steve says:

        That is true. Although I do believe its a little telling that Molina didn’t make Baseball America’s top 20 Florida State League prospects despite his season. And the Florida State League was absolutely brutal in terms of prospects this season.

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    • Nik says:

      Sounds like you’re a Blue Jays fan having trouble coming to grips that AA didn’t swindle anyone here.

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      • Steve says:

        Not a chance. Molina is a command/control pitcher with average pitches across the board. Projects as a back end starter or late inning reliever. Its a win-win trade with an edge to the Blue Jays.

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      • Nik says:

        You know what the longest river in the world is, right?

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    • Tim says:

      If I am not mistaken, Sickels has him number 2 after the 2011 season and no one else has released a prospects list yet. It will be interesting to see where other evaluators place him.

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      • Xave says:

        +1. I assume by “in the 20s” Steve is referring to last year’s prospect lists? I expect Molina to be in the top 10 on most lists this year.

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      • Steve says:

        Not refering to last years lists. Molina wasn’t even in Baseball America’s top 30 prospects.

        Talking to Nathan Rode a few months ago, he was hearing from scouts put Molina in the 20’s among Jays prospects

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  2. Manute says:

    Do the last two paragraphs make sense? Maybe I’m just being dense…

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    • GregN says:

      It isn’t just you. Seems reversed. Or something.

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      • cs3 says:

        makes perfect sense to me. this is whati got form it:

        if everyone knows that your team is rebuilding, then your team wont get back maximum value for their trade chips.

        so if you trade your most valuable piece (ie. Santos) before the other teams *know* that you are actually rebuilding, they cant use that info to leverage a lesser return.

        The only problem i see is that its up for debate whether or not Santos was the most valuable trade piece

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    • Joe says:

      Maybe I read through it quickly… but I think Eno was saying your best bet to get good value in a trade is the first one before people realize the team is in fire sale mode. If you are going to get good value in one trade you want it to be on your most valuable piece.

      In other words if you are going to start getting low-balled on trade offers, the least impactful way is to have your lowest value piece getting low balled. Or to put it in yet another perspective if one trade is going to net you 95 cents on the dollar and subsequent ones 50-75cents on the dollar you want the most valuable piece to get the first trade to maximize total value returned.

      I’m not sure Santos was their most valuable trade piece though…. while he may actually be that from a theoretical surplus value perspective, I think other GM’s might perceive a couple of the starters (Danks, Floyd) as more valuable even though the contracts are shorter team control and a bit less team friendly..

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  3. Steve says:

    To quote Mr. Keith Law himself.

    “The White Sox, on the other hand, get an extreme control right-hander without much of a breaking ball who could be a dominant two-pitch reliever, but is probably a year away from seriously contributing in the majors.”

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  4. Sean ONeill says:

    Molina strikes me as this year’s version of Brandon Beachy; a guy a lot of the traditional “scouting report” community will miss on because the reports on him coming into the year weren’t particularly good, and his stuff still isn’t the kind scouts traditionally covet (average fastball velocity, plus change/split, plus command). There’s always the possibility that he’s more Yusi Petit than Brandon Beachy, but that’s a risk worth taking given the potential pay off.

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  5. Paulie L. says:

    It should be mentioned that the White Sox just hired Marco Paddy, who was the director of Latin American operations for the Blue Jays the last 5 seasons. They should know better than most what they are getting in return.

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  6. MatManz says:

    If Molina can develop a third pitch (definitely not unheard of) and still maintain his dominance he could be a real force for the Sox in the future.

    You do not see K/BB ratios like his very often, I’m excited to see how he pans out and fully believe he’ll be brought up as a starter.

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  7. Darren says:

    This is a win-win trade for the Jays. Molina is a solid pitching prospect in a system with loads of them. Santos is a young closer with big potential, something the Jays need. Losing Molina is not a big blow to the system and it gives the Jays a closer without having to open up the budgets, or give up a ton for Bailer/Street.

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  8. Tim says:

    Need to factor in that those three option years make up almost 22 million of the 30 million you use… the majority of this contract only gets paid if Santos is performing at the higher level you reference.

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  9. Adrock says:

    Most serious Jays fans (okay, the very serious ones who follow the minor leagues) are very high on Molina. They view him as a serious prospect, who would probably not have been dealt if the club hadn’t built up a solid store of young pitching prospects.

    Batter’s Box (whose contributors include FG’s Marc Hulet, among others) is a good place to look: http://www.battersbox.ca/article.php?story=20111206132721664#11comments

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    • Steve says:

      The most serious of Jays fans aren’t as high on him. The more casual fans when it comes to the minors are overrating the crap out of him.

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      • Sean ONeill says:

        As above, I’m not sure this is really the case. I’m sure there are some who are overrating him because of the brilliance of his numbers, but there are also others who are likely underrating him because of their reliance on outdated or inaccurate scouting reports.

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      • MatManz says:

        Steve, it’s becoming very obvious that you’re pretty upset with this deal.

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      • Steve says:

        To be fair, baseball america posted their scouting report on him just after the season.

        The ground is probably in the middle of the two. But I can’t believe Sickels had him so high, that was ridiculous, in my opinion.

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      • Adrock says:

        The more casual fans have never heard of Molina.

        As noted above, John Sickels is high on him as well (noticeably higher than the fans’ post I linked to).

        I personally think he’s a better prospect than Zach Stewart or Rzepczynski.

        If Rogers Corporation uses the savings from Santos vs. Papelbon/Bell/Madson/etc. to acquire a major FA (e.g. Darvish) or trade for high end talent with market or above market-level contracts, this will have been a very good move, whether or not Molina blossoms.

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      • Steve says:

        I’m actually ecstatic about the deal. Its a good move, with both having 6 years of control, Santos being proven and having less wear on his arm then Molina.

        Jays finally have a reliable closer, and at a fantastic value.

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  10. everdiso says:

    Steve is talking out of his arse.

    Any jays fans who knows his prospects felt a little sick in the stomach when they heard this trade, even if Santos is a good get and probably worth it.

    The Jays have plenty of good pitching prospects, so it doesn’t hurt that much in the end, but Molina might turn into the best of them (though sure, he might not, either).

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    • Steve says:

      Yeah, unlike most Jays fans, I’m not dumb enough to just look at minor league stats. Read scouting reports, do some research, because minor league numbers don’t say much at all… especially in High A ball. Where pitchers with good fastball control thrive.

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      • everdiso says:

        yet somehow you’re dumb enough to get all of your “research” from outdates scouting reports, without even realizing it.

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      • Steve says:

        Outdated scouting reports as in scouting reports from 2011 after the season?

        There is a reason that Sickels is the only one ranking him highly like that

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      • James says:

        Not smart enough to stop trolling though…

        It is noted that pitchers with good fastball control generally thrive at all levels, and it generally seems to be much easier to learn additional/new pitches than new mechanics/control.

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      • bart says:

        Steve: you are dumb!
        everdiso: you are dumber!
        Steve: you are dumbest!
        Steve: you are dumbester!

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  11. Joel says:

    It seems to me that the Sox traded Santos for a pitcher that could potentially be the next Santos.

    This seems especially strange if you consider that a cost controlled closer would have huge value near the trade deadline

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    • MikeS says:

      That’s what I was thinking. There will be 5 or six teams looking for bullpen help in August at a minimum – there always are. It makes me wonder if the White Sox don’t maybe think that the hitters are catching up with Santos a little. He has thrown only 143.2 innings including the minors. Towards the end of last year he seemed more hittable, although k/9 still fantastic. Obviously really small sample sizes here but relievers in general have short shelf lives so maybe they just figure they are selling high and don’t want to risk him losing value in the first 4 months of the season.

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  12. Dear Steve says:

    Shut the hell up.

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  13. Anders says:

    I don’t really see the point of dinging Molina as a prospect. Opinions range from best (Sickels) to about 5th or 6th best pitcher (Law) in the Jays system. Either way it’s not bad, and the Jays have an extremely deep farm at this point. The consensus seems to be he will be a middle of the rotation or back of the bullpen guy, and Chicago is uniquely positioned to evaluate him.

    It’s a reasonably fair trade of need for need, with which side is the winner at this exact moment determined by one’s own projections for Molina.

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  14. Gregory says:

    Right now what matters to the Sox is that Molina instantly becomes their best pitching prospect.

    Also, the numbers he put up last season were really impressive.

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  15. Sophist says:

    and the Sox desperately need talent in their system. They are supposed to trade Quentin, and maybe will trade Floyd or Danks and possibly Thornton (plus whatever other surprise Kenny has up his sleeve), The result of this will be the projected starting rotation for 2013-2014. This is the start of Kenny acquiring arms, and he’ll be more intent on having several options than on worrying too much about where one prospect or another stands.

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  16. Mylegacy says:

    Well, while the Jay’s had a dozen or so high end starters in the minors it was widely accepted in particular they had FIVE very high end YOUNG starters: Hutchison, Syndergaard, Nicolini, Norris, and Molina. They’ve just traded the oldest Molina (22) for a closer with the “best slider in the show” over whom they’ll have 6 years of control!

    AA continues to be – without question – the master of the dance the Silent Assassin! He is clearly reading from a play book other GM’s didn’t even know exists.

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  17. LRG says:

    Santos is a really solid reliever and I definitely think Kenny will regret doing this trade. The Sox are so up and down. When u think they will do good, they suck but when no1 is expecting them to be good, they kill it. I bet Quentin hits 35/100 this year, Dunn goes off for 40/120, Beckham finally blossoms into the hitter everyone expected him to become, Alexei goes 20/20 and the Sox are kicking themselves for trading Santos.

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  18. Joe says:

    People are treating Santos like he’s a know quantity and have already tagged him as a reliable pitcher. He has <150 professional inning (majors+minors) and 3 years of professional pitching

    He might be the next Papelbon, Nathan, KRod or he could be another in a long line of volatile relievers who put together 2-3 really good years and never get back to that level (or can't consistently stay there)

    I wonder if another GM makes this trade, if it is looked at in the same light. A potential starter (with risk) for a back end reliever. This seems like a fair trade. People talk about Santos' team friendly contract but I hear teams tend to get pretty team friendly years during the first 6 years of a player's career as well.

    The White sox are basically trading off the upside of Molina being a starter with the downside he doesn't become at least a good back end reliever. Seems like a pretty good tradeoff on their end (especially if they are in rebuilding mode) and if Molina ends up as a starter down the road, this is a huge win for the White Sox

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  19. trade doctor says:

    I would have expected to get more than Molina if I was dealing Santos. The Jays are so deep, hard to believe they wouldnt have thrown in another decent lesser prospect if that is what it took to get a closer with the type of breakout year Santos had. Unless you think he is candidate to get hurt or due for a fall…or think the salary pressents a risk

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  20. Mike Green says:

    The article correctly infers from the trade that the White Sox are not likely to attempt to compete in 2012. The inference from the Blue Jay side is, of course, the converse. Which is interesting.

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  21. Michael says:

    My first instinct was that the White Sox could’ve gotten a second prospect. Not because Santos is an amazing pitcher, but because of the upside he showed combined with his favorable contract. I’m one of the biggest Nestor Molina believers out there so I’m not going to bash him. His numbers throughout his minor league career speak for the type of potential he has. This is one of my favorite types of trades. It’s similar to the Marcum/Lawrie deal last year, on a smaller scale. For what it’s worth, I do believe Molina showed more than enough as a starter last season to be considered a borderline elite pitching prospect. If he starts this season in AA and pitches well, he should be promoted to AAA for the second half. There’s a chance he pitches a few innings in the majors in 2012. I think Molina immediately becomes the White Sox’s #1 prospect heading into next season. If everything goes true to form, I envision Molina opening 2013 in the rotation. If I had to make a major league comparison, I’d say Molina projects to be a Doug Fister type, which some owners learned is quite valuable in fantasy and real-life.

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  22. Brett says:

    I don’t know how people from both sides seem to be complaining about this deal… Both teams traded from positions of strength – the Jays have a boatload of solid, young pitchers and the Sox had three guys (Santos, Thornton and Sale) capable of closing. This deal makes perfect sense to me for both sides.

    If, by some miracle, the Sox are contending this year, they will still have a solid closer in Thornton and they’ve picked up a guy who will likely be their #1 prospect.

    For the Jays, they still have a boatload of young pitchers in the system. Molina was one of the top 6 for sure given what John Sickels noted, but he also noted that in terms of upside, he was lower down the list behind Syndergaard, Nicolino and Norris at least.

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  23. striker says:

    A lot of people are labeling Santos as an elite closer. He’s only closed for one year and out of the top 30 save leaders he ranked 22nd for Successfully save percentage. Not exactly elite if you ask me.

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  24. Jay says:

    I think you can definitely make the case for there being enough potential for value on the Sox side to say they made a good trade. What wasn’t factored into this piece was AA’s pretty much absolute need to acquire a closer. I personally don’t think he had to, but after the number of blown saves they had last year and a promise to spend some money, not getting a closer would’ve been very hard to swallow for a lot of fans and is a spot where they might actually pick up actual wins for cheap (where an extra 1 WAR might be 4-5 actual wins, which is probably heresy to many here).

    If a closer was necessary, then the Blue Jays side of the deal is far more about Santos vs. FA closers than about Molina vs. Santos for value. IMO Bell is the easiest guy to compare as he got 3 years, Santos has 3 years, and Bell arguably has about as many question marks about his future (that’s obviously debatable). So if Santos is 3/8 (with a nice bonus possibility to extend 3 years beyond) and Bell is 3/27, then Molina has be worth less than 19 million.

    I think it’s not hard to make the case that with the Jays and where they are with prospects, if they have any doubts about Molina not being able to take rotation spots this year or be significantly better than the other guys in A or AA, then he’d have an awfully hard time adding up enough additional WAR over his inter-system competition to be worth 19 million.

    I’m not saying that’s the best way to evaluate a trade straight up, this piece did a nice job of it already, but if you’re of the mind that CHW got more or it was even, there’s also the factor that AA got a piece he had to get for next season where the alternative to giving up Molina was spending 20 extra million over the next 3 years.

    I’m just trying to a appease a few Jays fans that really really liked Molina. If all AA did was roll that 19m back into prospects (how easy/difficult that is to do now is another debate), he’d have to be pretty unlucky to not come up with a single guy as valuable or intriguing as Molina. I think more realistically those fans want to see that money spent now on other pieces, but since no one expects a bottomless pit of spending, this should be seen as an efficient use of resources as long as you felt a closer addition was necessary.

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  25. Steve says:

    Its still laughable how many of these idiots are just looking at numbers for Molina (then again it is fangraphs so….).

    Anyways. People calling Molina a borderline elite pitching prospect are nuts.

    A pitcher that relies on command (see dominant low level numbers, as pitchers with solid enough command do well). Has a violent arm motion, and no true plus offering isn’t going to be an elite pitching prospect.

    Lets come back when BA puts out its top 30 in the Prospect Handbook and all of the idiots evaluating prospects by minor league stats (The WORST way to evaluate prospects) will be shut up by what real scouts and minor league managers think of him.

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  26. Steve says:

    Well, Nathan Rode posted the top 10. In chat mentioned Molina was in the 11-20 range

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