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White Sox trade Sergio Santos to Blue Jays for pitching prospect

Sergio Santos who was traded Blue Jays saved 30 games 2011. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

Sergio Santos, who was traded to the Blue Jays, saved 30 games in 2011. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 8, 2012 10:32AM

DALLAS — Closer Sergio Santos, traded to the Toronto Blue Jays on Tuesday for highly regarded pitching prospect Nestor Molina, wasn’t the first movable piece expected to get shipped out at the winter meetings.

Moving Santos wasn’t even a salary-dumping move for the Sox, who say they have to trim from last season’s $127 million payroll. Santos recently signed for three more years at $8.75 million in a deal that included three option years.

But there seems little doubt the Sox got a top-level prospect in Molina, 22, a right-hander with four pitches and command so good he could make the 25-man roster in 2012. Molina, highly recommended by Marco Paddy — the Sox’ Latin American scouting chief hired away from Toronto last week — combined to go 12-3 with a 2.21 ERA over 1301/3 innings between the Class A and AA levels in 2011. He walked only 16 while striking out 148 in 26 games (23 starts) last season.

“He has a 90-96 mph fastball that bores in on right-handed hitters, keeps the ball down, can hit the outside corner, inside corner, take it upstairs if he needs to — he has a swing-and-miss-type splitter that drops off the table, a plus slider and an equally effective changeup,’’ Williams said.

There are varying reports on how good his slider is, but the bottom line is, ‘‘We are very happy that we were able to acquire him,’’ Williams said. “I did not anticipate that it would take Sergio to do it. I was thinking it would take starting pitching, but the opportunity presented itself.’’

Jesse Crain, Addison Reed and left-hander Matt Thornton — if he’s not traded — give the Sox enough depth to make Williams feel comfortable dealing Santos, 28, who saved 30 games while going 4-5 with a 3.55 ERA in his first try as a closer.

Williams said he wasn’t satisfied with offers for starters John Danks and Gavin Floyd and suggested he won’t trade them. He qualified that by saying “as of today.”

“I want to be very clear when I say, ‘as of today,’ this is where I sit,’’ Williams said. “Because a lot of things can change at these meetings as evidenced by this move.’’

As for outfielder Carlos Quentin, Williams said: “We still have interest in some of our position players, and we’re going to listen.’’

Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos finalized the deal with Williams late Monday.

“We certainly had a split camp internally because we think very highly of Molina, but where our team is right now, where our payroll is right now, all of those things made sense for us,” he said.

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