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Jays Pay Big for Their Closer

Posted By Ben Fisher On Dec 6 2011 @ 2:21 pm In Toronto Blue Jays | No Comments

Upon hearing of today’s Nestor Molina-for-Sergio Santos swap with the White Sox (a trade of pitchers who spent time in the Toronto system as infielders, ironically enough), the words of New Hampshire Fisher Cats’ beat reporter Kevin Gray echoed in my head. Referring to the 22-year old’s 2011 half-season at the AA level as “Verlander-like”, Gray recently identified Molina as the best prospect in the Blue Jays’ system.

Now, there’s a reason as to why Alex Anthopoulos is the general manager of the Toronto Blue Jays and Gray writes for the New Hampshire Union Leader, but Gray’s words carry some weight as a reporter who has seen more than his fair share of the club’s cream of the crop prospects come and go.

Fact is, this is an extremely risky deal that could well blow up in Anthopoulos’ face. Molina has developed three pitches to use as weapons (92-94 mph fastball, splitter and change-up) and was dominating Eastern League hitters to the tune of 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Those who point out that he wouldn’t have been ready to close for the Jays, anyway, miss the point of just how premium a long-term asset Molina is.  

And you don’t give premium assets away for nothing.

Now, Santos – a 28-year old 30-save guy from a season ago – is far from nothing. The positives to him are significant: 1.105 WHIP and 13.1 strikeouts per nine IP in 2011 and an affordable contract that has him set under team control through 2017.

Maybe I’m just late on him, but I simply don’t see Santos as an elite closer worthy of your best among a premium crop of pitching prospects. Thirty saves does not a career make and even a solid 2010 season of primarily middle relief does little to make his track record qualify as proven. The six blown saves and rather pedestrian (for a closer) 3.55 ERA (the very same average as one Frank Francisco last season) don’t help allay my concern. After all, it doesn’t exactly matter how many years of control you have over a player if that player turns out to be a dud.

It’s unclear where Santos ranked on the Jays’ shopping list when it came to closers. Many are chocking this one up to Anthopoulos once again being stealthy in his moves and managing to operate above the din of rampant speculation, but that doesn’t mean that the big righty was necessarily the first choice. Andrew Bailey probably would’ve cost the club more than just Molina, but that’s because the A’s stopper is a year younger than Santos and already has 44 more saves and a Rookie of the Year award under his belt. In terms of free agent options, Ryan Madson was the only sure thing that remained, but will still cost some team a significant chunk of change and is three years Santos’ senior.

So the Blue Jays have found their closer and they seem to have made a creative, savvy – albeit potentially flawed – choice. The question here is one of cost and Molina could represent a pretty costly sacrifice in the long run.

A New Pitching Depth Chart

So Molina is out and Henderson Alvarez, Joel Carreno and Kyle Drabek have spent enough time in the majors to shed their “prospect” tag (although all three may be back in the minors at some point), so how does the depth chart among the system’s pitchers shake down now?

Here’s my list, based on recent scouting reports (the list is based on Major League-readiness, not ceiling):

1)      Drew Hutchinson – polished; great stuff; economical delivery; could be an innings eater soon
2)      Noah Syndergaard – makes the most of his imposing 6’5” frame
3)      Deck McGuire – the talent is there, but he hasn’t quite put it all together yet
4)      Aaron Sanchez – electric stuff, but needs to find command
5)      Chad Jenkins – promoted to AA in 2011, but his star has faded some since being drafted in 2009
6)      Justin Nicolino – still a ways off, but climbing through the system quickly
7)      Asher Wojciechowski – pretty mediocre first full season at Dunedin
8)      Daniel Norris – for all intents and purposes, the Jays’ first rounder in the 2011 Draft
9)      Adonys Cardona – could be a big year for one of two major Venezuelan signees (along with Robert Osuna)
10)   Kevin Comer – another well-above-slot draftee from 2011, the last year such drafting will be possible

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