The White Sox have indicated a change in player acquisition philosophy this off season.  They have publicly said they plan to move away from “stop-gap” fixes and focus on acquiring longer-term controllable players for the 2017 season and beyond.  Many within the industry and who are familiar with the club are confident that this shift indicates the White Sox willingness to begin a full roster re-build.  This post is the first in a White Sox “Deal or No Deal” series, where we will look at some potential trade options for a re-build scenario.

28 year old Chris Sale is one of the most coveted players in all of baseball.  The 2016 season was an excellent one for Sale.  He finished with a 17-10 record, a 3.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 233 Strikeouts, and as always a very impressive strikeout to walk ratio.  Sale also completed 6 games, including 1 shutout.  He also pitched a career high 226.2 innings, making 32 starts for the first time in his career.  Since becoming a starter in 2012, Sale has been an All-Star each of the 5 seasons.  He has finished in the top 5 of the American League Cy Young Award voting 3 of 4 years, finishing 6th in 2012.  He will likely finish in the top 5 for his efforts this year as well.  For any SABR-minded friends out there, since becoming a starter in 2012, Sale has accumulated 27.6 bWAR (Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement), or an average of 5.5 bWAR per season.  This is very, very good.  So the numbers back up what anyone who has watched Chris Sale pitch has seen:  He is a dominant, left-handed, true ace of the staff pitcher, who is capable of making the best hitters in the world look like tee ball players.  Additionally, the White Sox have done an excellent job keeping Sale healthy for the most part.  In an era where an alarming number of young power pitchers are suffering arm injuries, Chris Sale has stayed healthy for the most part.  Sale has proven to be a workhorse, and his body of work is large enough to make Chris Sale one of the most coveted players in all of baseball.

But wait, there’s more!  As if anyone needed any more convincing, Chris Sale’s contract is a doozy.  Sale is due to make $12 MM in 2017, $12.5 MM in 2018, and $13.5 MM in 2019.  His 2018 and 2019 salaries are in the form of team options which will absolutely be exercised when the time comes.  Sounds like a lot of money, right?  To the layman, yes.  For a starting pitcher in Major League Baseball?  No, no it isn’t.  The most recent comparison on the free agent market is fellow lefthander David Price.  A free agent going into 2016, Price, the 2012 American League Cy Young Award Winner and perennial workhorse in his own right, signed a 7 year $217 MM contract with the Boston Red Sox that began in the 2016 season.  In 2016 alone he made $30 MM.  Chris Sale?  He made $9.15 MM.   OK, that’s a staggering difference.  But Sale’s salary does increase for 2017 to $12 MM.  So, looking at 2017 through 2019, David Price, 33 years old in 2019, will earn $91 MM (well, assuming he doesn’t exercise his opt-out clause and test the free agent waters again after 2018).  From 2017 through 2019, Sale, 30 years old in 2019, will make $38 MM.  Let me punch some numbers into my calculator here:  Sale, who is 3 years younger, and a better pitcher, will make 41% as much as David Price from 2017 through 2019.  That means for the White Sox, or any team who trades for Sale, they will be paying him 41% of his open market value, conservatively.  So there you have it.  Chris Sale:  Proven workhorse, perennial All-Star, perennial Cy Young Award candidate, and absolute bargain.  So, what does Rick Hahn ask for if he sells Sale to the highest bidder?  Let’s take a look at some options.

Option #1:  Los Angeles Dodgers

Who the White Sox may ask for:

1B Cody Bellinger – Dodgers #1 prospect, Baseball America #54 ranked prospect in MLB for 2016.

SP Jose DeLeon – Dodgers #2 prospect, Baseball America #28 ranked prospect in MLB for 2016.

OF Alex Verdugo – Dodgers #3 prospect, Baseball America #100 ranked prospect in MLB for 2016.

SS Gavin Lux – Dodgers #9 prospect, 2016 1st round draft pick.

IF Brendon Davis – Dodgers #18 prospect, 2015 5th round draft pick.

Going back to his days with the thrifty Tampa Bay Rays, Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has often been reluctant to trade his top young talent to improve the Major League Roster.  If the Dodgers were to make a serious play for Sale, it would require Friedman to let go of some of his best talent.

This is a haul of young talent the White Sox could ask for.  Cody Bellinger can hit.  He has made some swing adjustments and added more power to his game.  I saw him hit two towering home runs this fall in Omaha during his AAA debut; he is the real deal.  He has a quick bat, and will hit with authority in the big leagues.  He is only 21 years old, and will probably see some time in the big leagues in 2017.  Aside from Julio Urias, Jose DeLeon is the Dodgers prized pitching prospect.  He saw 4 starts with the Dodgers in 2016 with mixed results.  He has great stuff and a refined arsenal that will play in the majors, and he would look awfully good in White Sox pinstripes.  Verdugo, Lux, and Davis are excellent prospects as well, but are not nearly Major League ready.  20 year old Verdugo spent 2016 at AA Tulsa, where he played well.  He will likely open there to start 2017.  Lux and Davis were both drafted out of high school and are high-risk but high-reward players who are showing great promise.

Deal or No Deal:  Realistically, I don’t think the Dodgers will be willing to part with the talent necessary to convince the White Sox to part with Sale.  However, I really like their mix of talent to offer and would be pleasantly surprised if they did pull something off.  But for now, I say:  No Deal.

Option #2:  Houston Astros

Who the White Sox may ask for:

IF Alex Bregman – Astros infielder, former Baseball America #42 ranked prospect in MLB for 2016.

1B A.J. Reed – Astros first baseman, former Baseball America #11 ranked prospect in MLB for 2016.

SP Frances Martes – Astros #1 prospect, Baseball America #20 ranked prospect in MLB for 2016.

OF Kyle Tucker – Astros #2 prospect, Baseball America #61 ranked prospect in MLB for 2016.

P Albert Abreu – Astros #7 prospect, International signing 2013.

The Astros were fleeced by the Phillies last off season, acquiring reliever Ken Giles and sending a lot of talent, probably too much, to the Phillies in exchange.  They might be reluctant to make another blockbuster trade this off season, but certainly have the pieces to make a play for a marquee player like Sale.

First, Bregman and Reed probably will not both be traded.  Bregman, with Carlos Correa and Jose Altuve, is expected to be the cornerstone of the Astros for the foreseeable future.  Reed struggled to adjust to Major League pitching during his 2016 stint in the majors, but still has a lot of upside.  He will probably start 2016 at AAA Fresno.  Martes has a plus plus fastball, a plus curve, and great command of his pitches.  He should see time in Houston in 2017.  Kyle Tucker was drafted in the 1st round in 2015 out of high school.  He will play 2017 at A+ Lancaster, but may be moved up to AA.  He can rake and wreak havoc on the base paths.  Abreu has a dominant fastball but is working on his command.

Deal or No Deal:  The Astros have the pieces to make a deal happen, but likely will not part with them.  No Deal.

Option #3:  Boston Red Sox

Who the White Sox may ask for:

IF Yoan Moncada – Red Sox #1 prospect, Baseball America #3 ranked prospect in MLB for 2016.

OF Andrew Benintendi – Red Sox #1 prospect, Baseball America #15 ranked prospect in MLB for 2016.

3B Raphael Devers – Red Sox #3 prospect, Baseball America #18 ranked prospect in MLB for 2016.

P Michael Kopech – Red Sox #5 prospect, Baseball America #80 ranked prospect in MLB for 2016.

IF Bobby Dalbec – Red Sox #21 prospect, 2016 4th round draft pick.

C Blake Swihart – Red Sox Catcher, former Baseball America #17 ranked prospect in MLB for 2015

Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski has a history of making big splashes in the trade market.  However, he has publicly indicated that he has no desire to trade from his top young talent, and that the Red Sox rotation is fine.  Rick Porcello, will likely decline back to his career averages next year, and the Red Sox lack of pitching depth was exposed in the playoffs last year.  Dombroski is smart, and is likely doing everything he can to pick up another arm.

Before getting too far into this scenario let me say one thing:  There is no way the Red Sox will trade both Moncada and Benintendi.  Moncada struggled in Sept. with the Red Sox, but he is an incredible talent.  He could end up hitting 30 home runs, stealing 40 bases, and hitting .300 in his prime.  Benintendi entrenched himself as one of the Red Sox starting outfielders last year.  The sweet-swinging lefty has a long career of well above average hitting ahead of him.  So pick one of those two if you’re the White Sox.  Devers might be the biggest prize of a potential deal.  He played 2016 as a 19 year old at A+ Salem and struggled mightily to start the season.  However, by the end of the year his numbers were excellent.  He should start 2017 at AA Portland, but will be knocking on the door of Fenway Park soon enough.  Kopech throws 105 mph, so yeah, he might be worth acquiring.  Bobby Dalbec has been called a poor man’s Kris Bryant, but has a lot to prove.  Swihart is still a good talent, but has fallen out of favor in Boston.

Deal or No Deal:  I think Hahn and Dombrowski get creative and hammer something out.  Deal.

Stay tuned for the next installment of White Sox “Deal or No Deal”:  Jose Abreu.  –DV

Which deal do you like?  Do you think there’s a different team who will make a play for Sale?  Let us know in the comments below!


Photo:  Keith Allison on Flickr

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