I was pretty surprised yesterday when I heard the news that the Red Sox had landed Chris Sale from the White Sox. I honestly didn’t think they were going to even attempt such a move, because they just came off of a 93-win season in which they won their division and lost to eventual AL champion Cleveland. And, their biggest loss was clearly on the offensive side (Ortiz), so I assumed they would make that priority #1-9.
But, none of that is why I was eventually flabbergasted by this trade. What I simply find unbelievable is that the White Sox were willing to trade arguably the 2nd or 3rd best pitcher in baseball for nothing more than what they received from Boston. Let’s start with this: since the beginning of the 2013 season, only Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have a higher WAR (according to Fangraphs), or more strikeouts than Sale. Only Jake Arrieta, Kershaw & Scherzer can lay claim to a lower WHIP. And, only Kershaw and Josh Tomlin have a better K/BB ratio. This is no middle reliever. This is no mid-rotation starter. And, this is no average ace of a staff. He is clearly one of the absolute best in the game.
On top of those numbers, there is the financial side to consider. Sale is going into his age-28 season. The Red Sox are guaranteed to have him for 3 years. And, those will be prime years. What will it cost the Red Sox? – $38 million. To put that into perspective, Rich Hill (who is a full 10 years older than Sale and has put together a really solid season just once in 12 years) just signed a contract that will cover those same 3 years . . . for $48 million. There are 34 starting pitchers that will make more than Sale in 2017 – 3 of whom are going to be pitching behind him in the same rotation (Price, Porcello & Buchholz). So, the Red Sox are getting 3 prime seasons out of one of the best pitchers in the game, at an extreme discount. This, in the midst of an off-season in which everyone knew the starting pitching market was going to be particularly thin. Hill may very well have been the best starter available among free agents this winter.
With all of this in mind, wouldn’t you expect the White Sox to walk away with a treasure trove of players? Shouldn’t you expect them to bring in a haul that includes both major league ready players and prospects? After all, didn’t we see something like this just a year ago? Do you remember what the Diamondbacks sent to Atlanta in order to get Shelby Miller? A Gold Glove caliber major league outfielder (Inciarte) who could hit leadoff, and was just 25 at the time; the #1 overall draft pick from the 2015 draft (Swanson), who was already ranked as the #10 prospect in all of baseball (and Arizona’s #1 prospect), and plays a premium position (SS); and, the D’backs’ #3 prospect (#61 overall), a near major league ready pitcher who is likely a mid-rotation starter (Blair). Granted, I believe pretty much everyone considered that trade heavily lopsided in the Braves’ favor. But, considering the fact that it was for a mid-rotation starter in Miller, I would have expected that package to be a jumping off point for anything the White Sox would consider in return for Sale.
But, it obviously wasn’t.
I had heard rumors that the Nationals – who seemed to be the frontrunners to land Sale – were willing to part with both of their top 2 prospects in a package for Sale. That would have been Lucas Giolito (#3 prospect in baseball), who looks ready to start at the major league level next year, and has the potential to develop into an ace; and Victor Robles (#10 prospect in baseball), who is a crazy fast outfielder and may be a legit 5-tool player in a couple years. I thought that was a pretty good place to start, if you’re going to be giving up 3 years of one of the best pitchers in the game, and trying to rebuild via trades. Especially in a year when there are so few pitching options for competitive teams to go after.
But, alas, the White Sox have proven once again that they don’t seem to understand market value. Or the fact that they were the ones holding all the cards. It appears as though they have rushed into the first offer that appeared to be a little better than others they were hearing. Take a look at what they’re getting:
- Yoan Moncada – yes, he’s the #1 prospect in baseball, and will likely be major league ready next year, playing 2B and drawing potential comparisons to Robinson Cano. He’s an excellent prospect.
- Michael Kopech – he’s now the White Sox’s #2 prospect. Sounds good, right? Well . . . he was only the Red Sox’s #5 prospect, and is only #30 in baseball. He has the potential to be a frontline starter, but since he was drafted in 2014, he has struggled with command of not only his pitching, but also his off-field life. Suspended for 50 games for a stimulant, and broke his hand in a fight with a teammate. Not exactly what I would call a top-tier prospect.
- Luis Alexander Basabe – he’s now the White Sox’s #7 prospect, and was Boston’s #8 prospect. He’s not in the top-100 prospects in baseball, which is a significant drop-off from the first two names here. If he pans out (which would be at least a couple more years), he could be a nice switch-hitter with power in the outfield.
- Victor Diaz – he barely cracks the White Sox’s top-30 prospect list at #29. He’s a long way from the majors, and even his best path is as a late-inning reliever, if he makes it.
Do you see what I’m seeing? The Red Sox were able to land one of the best pitchers in the game, and the only real significant piece they gave up was Moncada. They didn’t have to give up Henry Owens or Eduardo Rodriguez, a pair of very young and talented LHP’s who have just begun their major league careers. They didn’t have to give up Andrew Benintendi, their #2 prospect, and my early pick to win ROY in the AL next year. They didn’t have to give up Rafael Devers, their #3 prospect, and the #1 3B prospect in baseball. They didn’t have to give up Jason Groome, their #1 pick in this year’s draft, and the #1 LHP prospect in baseball. The Red Sox should feel great about this move.
It’s as if they went shopping for a pitcher, and found themselves a Black Friday steal!
White Sox fans, on the other hand, should be shaking their heads. Yes, you have a middle-infielder in Moncada that has the potential to be a perennial All-Star. But, tell me this: what about this package is any better than what the Braves received for Shelby Miller? Maybe if Kopech, Basabe, and Diaz all reached their potential, you could say the White Sox received one more productive player than the Braves did. But, is that really the difference between the value of Shelby Miller and Chris Sale?? I hardly think so. Even the Nationals’ willingness to part ways with their top 2 prospects seems like a better deal than what the Red Sox gave up. Even if all the Nationals added to the package were B-list prospects that were a long way from making it to the majors.
Just further evidence that White Sox management doesn’t seem to understand how to put together a team that will consistently compete. Not that we should be surprised, since they had one of the best pitchers in the game for 5 years, and never did anything with him.