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.”