Winter Meetings Wheeling and Dealling: Sergio Santos Edition

The White Sox and Blue Jays agreed to a trade on Tuesday. The pale hose sent closer Sergio Santos to the Jays for pitching prospect Nestor Molina. The ramifications in ranking closers for 2012 after this trade is quite intriguing as the door is open for an electric prospect arm to seize the gig in Chicago.

 

The most notable name in the trade is Santos. Santos was selected in the first round of the 2002 Amateur Draft by the Arizona Diamondbacks at pick 27. The funny thing is, he was selected out of High School as a shortstop. After struggling to hit his weight in the minors, his electric arm was tested on the bump. He took to the change like a fish to water. He spent just one season, 2009, in the minors throwing 28.2 innings across four levels. The White Sox deemed him major league ready the next season, and he spent the full year with the parent club.

His 9.75 K/9 was quite impressive, but his 4.53 BB/9 indicated his control needed a bit more work. Santos control took a step forward, 4.12 BB/9, but it was a monster leap in strikeouts, 13.07 K/9, that helped him nail down the closer job and tally 30 saves in 36 save opportunities. He throws hard, averaging over 95 mph on his fastball, though, it was his filthy slider that made hitters look silly. That slider generated a 33.9 percent whiff rate, and was a true wipe out pitch. Unlike most converted fielders, Santos also features a change-up with some regularity, throwing it around eight percent of the time. The pitch is effective, and had a whiff rate of 16.9 percent.

Those looking for chinks in the armor can start by pointing to an ugly September. That said, it was just one month, he may have been tired, and it was mostly the long ball that undid him. Santos only modest groundball rate, 43 percent, could result in the occasional gopher ball. Thankfully for him, he’ll be calling the Rogers Centre home instead of the band box known as U.S. Cellular Field. According to Bill James ballpark indices, the Rogers Centre amplifies home runs, but not nearly to the same extent U.S. Cellular Field does. Changing leagues won’t help Santos value, as the American League East features some juggernaut offenses. Regardless, closers that can flirt with 100 strikeouts like Santos did in 2011 don’t grow on trees. Between his strikeout rate and job security, Santos should rank in the top 10-15 closers in 2012.

Like Santos, Molina is a converted fielder as well, having previously played third base. He had an outstanding statistical season split between High-A and Double-A with the bulk of his work, 108.1 innings, coming in High-A (22 innings in Double-A). He pitched with surgical precision walking only 16 batters all year (1.10 BB/9). He paired his dental floss thin walk rate with a spectacular 10.22 K/9.

As tremendous as he was, scouting reports offer mixed reviews. Some scouts see Molina as a mid-rotation starter, while others see his future in the bullpen. As a right-handed pitcher, his upper-80s to low-90s fastball velocity doesn’t generate much buzz. However, the pitch plays up thanks to plus command of it. Back in August, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus lauded Molina’s control and command, but described his stuff as average. Conversely, John Sickels of Minor League Ball says Molina’s stuff is underrated, named him the number two prospect in the Blue Jays organization, and labeled him a B+ prospect. All outlets seem to agree on two things. One thing they agree on is that his breaking ball is a work in progress. The other thing they agree on is that his splitter is a knockout pitch. Molina also throws a developing change-up that Baseball America describes him as having some feel for.

If Molina succeeds in the upper minors to open the year, he should be trading bus trips for charter flights in the summer of 2012. Even if he reaches the majors next year, it is hard to envision him making a big splash in re-draft leagues as a young pitcher that lacks elite stuff. He should be monitored closely, or owned, in deep keeper leagues and dynasty leagues in which he is available.

The player that could get the biggest fantasy boost in 2012 is White Sox reliever Addison Reed. Reed looks primed to take the reigns to ninth inning duties in the south side of Chicago. The biggest hurdle he could face would be Chris Sale struggling to make the conversion to starting in the spring and being returned to the bullpen. In the White Sox dream world, though, Sale is starting games, and Reed is finishing them.

Reed started the year in Single-A and finished it in the majors making stops at every minor league level in between. He dominated at all stops finishing with a 12.92 K/9 and a 1.58 BB/9 in 85.2 innings across five levels. The former San Diego State Aztec pitcher’s repertoire includes a premium velocity fastball that averaged 94.8 mph in the majors, a nasty slider, and a change-up. Sickels described his slider as, “one of the best breaking pitches in the minors.” In his always excellent Prospects Will Break Your Heart column looking at relief prospects, Jason Parks gushed over Reed’s fastball and referred to his non-slider secondary pitch as a split/change.

Reed’s total package is tantalizing out of the pen. In discussing the impact of the White Sox and Blue Jays trade by e-mail with the rest of the Fantasy Baseball 365 staff, Charlie Saponara said he’d rather have Reed in fantasy in 2012 than Santos. I’m in complete agreement. The beauty of drafting Reed is that he’ll come cheaper than Santos in most leagues due to his limited major league experience (7.1 innings). His strikeout potential is equal to that of Santos, but doesn’t come with the erratic control. Confidently buy Reed and reap the benefits.