Involved in trade rumors since before the 2016 trade deadline, Chris Sale is still coming up in headlines. The White Sox don’t seem to be eager to just give their ace away though, as Ken Rosenthal reports that the South Siders are asking for an extraordinary return.
While Sale drew some unwanted attention this past season—first, with the Adam LaRoche saga, and later by getting suspended for cutting up his team’s jerseys—he is still an incredible asset to a team. Since converting to a starter in 2012, Sale is the fourth-best pitcher in the entire league by FanGraphs’ WAR. In that time frame, Sale has posted the 14th-best FIP, 10th-best ERA, and 7th-best strikeout rate of any qualified starter. This is a big reason why the White Sox are warranted in asking for a big haul in exchange for Sale. Per Rosenthal:
One interested GM, while saying Sunday that the White Sox want a return that is “through the roof,” acknowledged that the team’s position is not inappropriate due to Sale’s extraordinary value.
Rival executives predictably — wishfully? — say that the White Sox likely will be unable to land a “can’t-do-that” player. In their view, a more realistic goal for general manager Rick Hahn would be a haul of five or six top prospects that would broaden the franchise’s talent base and potentially create greater impact than a package driven by one future star.
It’s tough to imagine a team will agree to parting with ‘five or six top prospects’ either though, as Rosenthal suggests. In fact, it actually might be more plausible that a rival team agrees to part with one key, impact player. After all, Sale is still under contract for three seasons for $38 million. At 28-years-old, Sale could foreseeably be in the Cy Young conversation in all three of those seasons and get paid less than the value of a qualifying offer.
Rosenthal editorializes that Andrew Benintendi, Rougned Odor, Julio Urias, Trea Turner, Alex Bregman, or Dansby Swanson are the type of players that might be able to get a Sale trade done. With due respect to Odor, all but one of these players are potentially franchise-altering young stars. Rosenthal even adds that a deal around Benintendi might not even hurt the Red Sox’s depth:
If the Sox traded Benintendi, they still would be left with Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the outfield, and the ability to spend on a free agent in the other spot. (They also could substitute Yoan Moncada for Benintendi, and wait for Rafael Devers as the long-term solution at third base).
Of course, parting with a Benintendi or a Moncada would have to be weighed carefully, but the addition of Sale to the Red Sox’s rotation is a pretty unique opportunity. While Rick Porcello won the Cy Young, and David Price and Stephen Wright performed more-than-admirably, the Red Sox’s pitching depth was tested at points throughout the season. Clay Buchholz proved ineffective at times, while Henry Owens failed to arrive the way many thought he would. A dynamic lefty like Sale would help bolster a starting rotation worthy of repeating as AL East champions.
The likelihood of Sale moving still remains to be seen, as the White Sox still have yet to tip their hand on whether they are selling or buying this offseason. While the team feels largely out of contention, finishing up the 2016 season at 78-84, a look at their depth chart actually may seem like they are closer to competitive than one may think. If Hahn decides to try to build a winner this offseason, it won’t be totally unexpected. And trading away a player like Sale isn’t a move a team looking for wins in the short-term does.