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White Sox Tue Feb 21 2012

Coming & Going: White Sox Closer

It's been a tumultuous offseason for the local nines, with the Cubs and White Sox both saying goodbye to big names who played big roles in recent years. Let's get you up to speed before spring training arrives. (Part of a series.)

    

Goodbye: Sergio Santos
Last season: 30 saves, 3.55 ERA, 13.1 K/9 ratio, 3.17 K/BB

Hello: Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain
Thornton last season: 3 saves, 3.32 ERA, 9.5 K/9, 3.00 K/BB
Crain last season: 1 save, 2.62 ERA, 9.6 K/9, 2.26 K/BB

What Happened?

In a move that kicked off the White Sox rebuilding effort, Chicago traded closer Sergio Santos to Toronto for pitching prospect Nestor Molina.

"It is the start of a rebuilding," Sox general manager Ken Williams told reporters after the trade. "And you guys know I have not used that word in 12 years. But it is the start of a rebuilding. Now, is it the start of falling-domino rebuilding? No. Absolutely not." Williams went on to say that he planned to keep most of the pitching staff intact, and that they hoped to add a piece to make a run in 2013 or 2014. For the most part he was right, but Mark Buehrle signed with Miami, and the White Sox traded Jason Frasor back to Toronto.

Because the Sox did not either trade or sign a closer after the Santos deal, reports have holdovers Jesse Crain and Matt Thornton competing for the closer spot in spring training.

How Will the White Sox Miss Santos?

Although the Santos trade might have looked bad on first glance, it was far from a disastrous move. Sure, Santos is only going to be 29, has a favorable contract, doesn't have the wear on his pitching arm due to playing infield until a few years ago, and has two very good pitches (a high 90s fastball and a nasty slider). But baseball insiders and experts have established that the closer position is highly overrated, and Santos wasn't that lights out - six blown saves in 36 chances in 2011.

And since the White Sox have even said 2012 will be a rebuilding season, what's the point of a closer if they feel they will lose a bunch of games anyway? Might as well flip Santos for a young guy they wanted, which they did. Molina has potential, and he had a 12-3 record, 2.21 ERA, and 148 strikeouts in 130 innings in Single-A and Double-A last year.

What Do Crain and Thornton Bring to the White Sox?

Both Thornton and Crain have been in the big leagues since 2004, and neither have been a closer for an entire season. The lefty Thornton was the closer at the beginning of last year, and promptly blew four saves in his first five appearances. Meanwhile, Crain, a righty, only had one save last year, but six blown saves. Both guys are good pitchers, but both are more geared towards being in set-up or middle relief roles - Thornton and Crain each had at least 20 holds last year. The switch to closer will probably be tough for either of them.

But wait. There's an ace in the hole. Addison Reed, a 23-year old right-hander with a mid-90s fastball and killer slider, could easily slide in as closer as the season goes on. Reed had a brief appearance with the Sox last year, but was able to throw 12 strikeouts (with only one walk) in 7.1 innings.

Sure that's a small sample size, but Reed was fantastic in the minors. He played in all four levels (A+, Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A) in 2011, and finished with a 1.26 ERA and 111 strikeouts to only 14 walks. This guy will easily be a factor for Chicago in the near future.

So Santos is out. But the Sox added a pitching prospect and may have found a slot for another.

 
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