Ruminations on Sergio Santos and Nestor Molina

Don Cooper lurks behind yet another departure.

I can't say I really understand the uproar over losing a closer on a team that is getting further away from contention. Our discussions haven't focused on that, but it's happening elsewhere. Look at our Facebook page, for instance. The people who aren't happy... really aren't happy.

You know what a nonthreatening team with a good closer looks like? The Kansas City Royals. They never thought about dealing Joakim Soria, and while it made day-to-day life a little easier at Kauffman Stadium, it didn't really do the Royals much good when looking at the bigger picture.

And Santos isn't Soria. Not quite yet, at least. He saved 30 of 36 games, which is a so-so success rate. You may remember my post from October where I found out that the Sox blew the most ninth-inning leads since 1957, and Santos played a big part in that. Hell, even his last save with the White Sox was an adventure, as he nearly lost a three-run lead by going walk-single-strikeout-strikeout-double-walk-walk-strikeout. He mixed in a wild pitch, too.

Santos is a fine relief pitcher. He exceeded expectations in 2011, he's a force when he's on, and he still has room to grow. If he were the Sox's primary closer in 2012, I would be all for it. But I don't see his absence creating a major void -- especially since the Sox didn't build their bullpen around him. He was supposed to be a seventh-inning guy, but made The Leap and held up surprisingly well in tight spots. I don't know if Addison Reed can duplicate his success exactly, but I like his chances of being in the neighborhood. And if that's the case, the Sox are right back where they started -- needing to worry far more about all that isn't working over the first eight innings.

I like Nestor Molina. Not just because his name can be rearranged to spell "Melon Rations," "Moon Latrines" or "Ten Monorails." And not just because I can make old Nintendo references.

I like that he has two pitches right now, at age 22 and with limited pitching experience. I like that he can make his fastball move in different ways. I like that he has four-pitch potential. I like that his current repertoire (fastball and splitter) resulted in 148 strikeouts to only 16 walks over 130 innings. Sure, most of that happened in High-A ball, but when he went to Double-A, he didn't slow down (33 strikeouts, two walks over 22 innings!).

Most of all, I like that I can understand why Kenny Williams traded for him. Contrast this trade with Nick Swisher II: Personality Dump Boogaloo. Jeff Marquez was the main attraction, and he was supposed to have a dynamic power sinker. You just couldn't see it in his grounder or home-run rates, because it had to move to Canada or something. Without a good sinker, Marquez was in need of a better slider, and he never found one.

The same thing is going on with Zach Stewart, to a lesser degree, and at a lesser cost. The Sox talked him up as a starting candidate, but he's lacking an off-speed pitch. That causes him to run into some walls during his starts, which then prompts stories like this one wondering why he's inconsistent.

For all the discrepancies in the reports about Molina, nobody seems to debate that he's two pitches strong. If a consistent slider is what he's lacking, the Sox just might be able to help him with that. Right, Philip Humber?

Star-divide

Marco Paddy's role in this trade intrigues me.

Paddy, whom the Sox recently hired from the Blue Jays to re-establish their international scouting presence, was the guy who signed Molina out of Venezuela. He's also the guy who converted Molina from an outfielder to a pitcher.

All the stories have this, but The Globe and Mail's account got me thinking:

[Alex] Anthopoulos said the trade percolated for awhile and those close to both teams say it was the hiring of Marco Paddy, the former Blue Jays director of Latin-American scouting, by the White Sox a few weeks ago that put a deciding voice in the ear of Williams.

Wait, a few weeks ago? I thought he was hired earlier this week. How long has he actually been around the Sox. Was Paddy a plant? WAS HE WEARING A WIRE???

Or, I can see this shaking out in two other ways...

Paddy knows best. Considering he's watched Molina in every step of his professional progression, it stands to reason that he has full faith in Molina. He tells Williams to ignore the prospect guys who say Molina is probably bullpen material. He has overseen his development, and knows he can be a fixture in the rotation.

Paddy wants to make his presence known. Sometimes when people take over a department, they want to whip out the branding iron immediately and make a mark to justify the buzz. Will it lead to better results? Nobody can be sure. But hey, one of Paddy's guys is now the No. 2 prospect in the White Sox system, so everybody knows he's in the building now.

I have no clue which is more likely, if either are in play. But I imagine there were some internal dialogues that would be fascinating to follow.

Star-divide

Coming back to Santos,it seems like a lot of people are overstating his relative value, whether it's...

Kevin Goldstein: "He throws strikes, mixes all of his pitches, and keeps hitters off balance, but that said, he's very good at what he does, projecting as a future No. 4 starter with some chances of being a three."

... or ...

Phil Rogers: "The deal could turn out to be a good one if Molina outperforms the industry view that he's either a 'mid-rotation starter' or a late-inning reliever."

If the Sox traded a good closer for a No. 3 or No. 4 starter while resetting the pay scale for that roster spot, then don't the Sox win the trade? It wouldn't be a fleecing, but they would have taken an asset from an area of strength, successfully re-allocated it to a position of weakness, and received a little bit of surplus value on top of it all. That's what a trade like this is supposed to accomplish.

It's not wrong to think the return for Santos' very friendly contract is disappointing. Molina just started pitching in Double-A, and a lot can happen between now and the big leagues. There's a chance Molina can never hack it, and that would suck.

But pan it for the risk, not the potential. If Molina meets the projection or the industry view, that would be worth celebrating. Remember: The last time the White Sox traded a reliever with a little less than one year of closing experience for an A-ball pitcher who turned into a "mid-rotation starter," it worked out pretty damn well.

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