Kenny Williams arrived at the Winter Meetings last night and it didn't take him long to send his first volley by trading closer Sergio Santos to the Blue Jays for RHP Nestor Molina. Molina is a 22 year old who reached AA at the end of last season. The direction of the White Sox now is pretty clear: rebuilding.
Molina burst onto the prospect scene this season. After relieving for his entire minor league pitching career, he transitioned to the starting rotation at High A Dunedin and was sparkling: 108.1 IP, 102 H, 14 BB, 115 K. After a late season promotion to AA New Hampshire, he continued his dominance: 22 IP, 12 H, 2 BB, 33 K.
His stuff doesn't appear to be of the overpowering variety. There seems to be some debate about velocity, which KW confirmed by saying it was from "90-96 MPH". That's a pretty wide range. It's possible that high end is what he touched when relieving and now he's more in the 90-93 range as a starter. There also is some question about the consistency of his slider, though it does appear that it is a plus pitch when it is on. He also throws a changeup. There is no dispute, however, that he has an excellent splitter. His control is obviously well above average and his command appears to be quite good, as well. His makeup is considered to be off the charts. Amusingly, like Santos, Molina was a position player until 2008 when he was converted to a full-time pitcher. (Video of Molina pitching.)As for Santos, he was signed to a very team-friendly contract through at least 2014 with options until 2017: next 3 years at $1 million, $2.75 million and $3.75 million and three team option years at $6 million, $8 million and $8.75 million. But the White Sox have significant bullpen depth and can absorb the loss of their anointed closer. Expect to see Jesse Crain given most save opportunities early on. But it also wouldn't be surprising to see a bit of the "closer by committee" we saw last season, particularly if Matt Thornton sticks around.
This appears to be a vote of confidence for Addison Reed. While Reed is unlikely to be ready to be immediately thrown into high leverage situations, he will almost certainly make the club out of spring training and it won't take long for him to prove that he can be trusted in the late innings.
It also shows that Marco Paddy (who just started his job with the White Sox as Special Assistant to the General Manager – International Operations) has KW's ear. Paddy signed Molina when he was with the Blue Jays and was responsible for converting him from a light-hitting outfielder to a lights-out pitcher.
Molina will likely begin the season with AA Birmingham, with an eye towards moving him up to AAA Charlotte by mid-season. The White Sox have been aggressive with pitching prospects in the past - most notably amongst starters, Daniel Hudson - and I would expect Molina's treatment to be the same if he continues to put up good numbers. A late season call-up would likely be the plan.
The deal is a good one for the White Sox. Santos, if things go well, is under team control for 6 years. Molina, if things go well, is under team control for (at least) 6 years. Santos has the upside of being an elite closer. Molina has the upside of being a mid-rotation (or higher) starting pitcher. Mid-rotation starting pitchers are worth more than elite closers. These are the sorts of deals you make if you're rebuilding.