The trade deadline is a little more than one week away, and over the last few days one of the best players in all of baseball has reportedly hit the market: White Sox ace Chris Sale. The Rangers are said to be making a strong push to acquire him, though you can be sure other clubs are involved.
Speculation on Saturday after Sale was scratched from his start made it seem like a trade could be imminent. Instead, Sale was sent home due after destroying the throwback jerseys the White Sox were scheduled to wear. He was later suspended five days for insubordination. Will this make the team more open to trading him? GM Rick Hahn shot that down on Sunday.
Hahn says Sale's actions "doesn't move the needle one iota" of him possibly being traded.— Chuck Garfien (@ChuckGarfien) July 24, 2016
Of course, there is no pressing need to trade Sale. He's not an impending free agent, and the White Sox could conceivably contend with him next year. And the year after. And the year after that. Sale is signed through 2019, assuming his two no-brainer club options are picked up in 2018 and 2019. The ChiSox are in the driver's seat here. They don't have to trade Sale.
What would it take to acquire Sale from the White Sox prior to the August 1 trade deadline? That's what we're here to try to answer.
First, we need to come up with some sort of trade template. That won't be easy. How many ace-caliber pitchers are traded 3 1/2 years away from free agent? Not many. There has been one fairly recently though, as in last year: Cole Hamels.
The Rangers acquired Hamels (and Jake Diekman) from Phillies at last summer's trade deadline for a massive package of prospects. Here's a recap of the Hamels' trade haul:
- RHP Jake Thompson: Double-A pitching prospect ranked No. 51 in MLB.com's midseason top-100 list in 2015.
- OF Nick Williams: Double-A outfield prospect ranked No. 55 on MLB.com's list.
- C Jorge Alfaro: Double-A catching prospect ranked No. 59 on MLB.com's list.
- RHP Jerad Eickhoff: Triple-A pitching prospect very close to MLB ready. Not a top-100 prospect.
- RHP Alec Asher: Triple-A pitching prospect close to MLB ready. Not a top-100 prospect.
- LHP Matt Harrison: Veteran pitcher on the DL thrown into the trade to offset salary.
That's a huge package of players. The Diekman and Harrison factors complicate things, but generally speaking, the Phillies landed three top 50-ish prospects plus two close-to-MLB-ready pitchers for Hamels. It's no surprise then that the White Sox are said to be seeking five prospects in exchange for Sale:
chisox said to seek 5 top prospects for sale. rivals do not blame them & 1 said "they will get it!" https://t.co/OOh2U9vlZ5— Jon Heyman (@JonHeyman) July 23, 2016
Now, the Hamels trade is not a perfect benchmark for Sale. Not only do Diekman and Harrison complicate things, but Sale is both younger than Hamels and much cheaper. You could easily argue he's better too. We're in the ballpark though, and that's better than just guessing and slapping together names.
So, using this blueprint -- three top 50-ish prospects and two close-to-MLB-ready second pieces -- let's look at what some clubs around the league could offer the White Sox for Sale prior to the trade deadline.
Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have already added one starting pitcher this trade season (Drew Pomeranz), but that won't stand in the way of a possible Sale trade. Sale is the kind of pitcher you go out and acquire no matter what your current rotation situation.
Here's a potential trade package:
- Two of 2B Yoan Moncada, OF Andrew Benintendi, and 3B Rafael Devers
- RHP Michael Kopech
- LHP Henry Owens
- RHP Pat Light
Boston has three high-end prospects who don't fall into the top-50 range, but rather the top-20 range. MLB.com ranked Moncada (No. 5), Devers (No. 15) and Benintendi (No. 21) among the top 20-ish prospects in baseball in their most recent top-100 list. That's why I'm suggesting two of the three instead of all three. (The ChiSox wouldn't be crazy to ask for all three though.)
Kopech is an extreme hard-thrower who is emerging as a top prospect. He'll pop up on some top-100 lists next spring. Owens and Light are both in Triple-A at the moment and could help soon, Owens as a starter and Light as a reliever. It's worth noting Owens has struggled in limited MLB time and his stock is down due to ongoing control issues. Still, this is a package that would at least get the White Sox's attention.
Coming into Saturday, the Cubs have by far the lowest rotation ERA in baseball at 2.98. They're nearly half-a-run better than any other team. The Cubbies don't need Chris Sale, but you can be sure they'd love to have him, especially with Jake Arrieta due to become a free agent after next season.
Here's a potential package:
- SS Gleyber Torres (No. 24 on MLB.com's most recent top 100)
- 2B Ian Happ (No. 64)
- OF Eloy Jimenez (No. 98)
- RHP Adam Warren
- RHP Carl Edwards Jr.
It should be noted both Happ and Jimenez have seen their stock rise this season, so if MLB.com updated their list, both would probably be among the top-50 prospects in the game. Starting the package with those two plus Torres is really going to hurt, which is why the third and fourth pieces aren't too significant. Edwards is a bullpen arm and Warren is a swingman who hasn't found a niche with the Cubs after coming over from the Yankees in the Starlin Castro trade.
Could the Astros get involved? They're a young team on the rise and they're currently surging towards first place in the AL West. Houston certainly has the prospect capital to swing a trade, plus there's a need in the rotation.
How about this package?
- SS Alex Bregman (No. 18 on MLB.com's most recent top 100)
- RHP Joe Musgrove (No. 96)
- RHP Lance McCullers Jr.
- 3B Colin Moran
This doesn't follow our "two top 50 guys plus two other pieces" template, but the the Astros are a special case because Bregman might be the best prospect in baseball right now. The Astros have Carlos Correa entrenched at short, and they just signed third baseman Yulieski Gurriel. Bregman has been playing some left in the minors, so they're trying to get him in the lineup. Using him as a chip to get an ace like Sale is another option.
McCullers is in the Astros' rotation right now and he's having a fine season (3.33 ERA) despite a few too many walks (5.4 BB/9). There's long been speculation his control issues may land him in the bullpen long-term. Musgrove is close to MLB-ready and is more of a mid-rotation starter than an ace. Moran is pretty much MLB-ready right now too, but Gurriel figures to stand in his way.
Los Angeles Dodgers
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman isn't the type to empty his farm system for a big name player, but when it comes to Sale, even Friedman probably won't be able to resist. His team is in clear need of rotation help too. That was true before Clayton Kershaw's back started to act up.
Here's a possible package:
- LHP Julio Urias (No. 2 on MLB.com's most recent top 100)
- RHP Grant Holmes (No. 53)
- 1B/OF Cody Bellinger (No. 88)
- C Austin Barnes
- RHP Chase De Jong
The Dodgers love Urias, and really, who doesn't? He's a budding star. One day he may be as good as ... Chris Sale! So why not trade Urias for the real Sale when a) Urias is about two years away from throwing a full 180-inning season given his workloads to date, and b) you're in win-now mode?
There are very few players worth giving up Urias to acquire. Sale is one of them.
Bellinger is a fairly divisive prospect -- some see him as a top-50 guy, others are much lower -- but he's hitting at Double-A and doing well in the outfield. Holmes is the Class A lottery ticket arm. Barnes could step right in as a backup right now and possibly start down the road. De Jong is in Double-A and projects as a back-end depth arm. Clearly though, Urias would be the headliner.
St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals are the only team in baseball that has used just five starters this season, though something tells me they wouldn't be opposed to making room for Sale. They've dabbled in the market for high-end starters before, remember.
Here's a potential package:
- RHP Alex Reyes (No. 11 on MLB.com's most recent top 100)
- RHP Jack Flaherty (No. 68)
- OF Nick Plummer
- 2B Kolten Wong
Reyes might be the best pitching prospect in baseball right now. He's certainly in the conversation. On top of that, he's in Triple-A and pretty close to MLB-ready too. As with Urias, you don't give up a prospect like Reyes to get just anyone, but Sale is one of those guys.
Plummer was St. Louis' first-round pick last year -- he hasn't played this year due to a wrist issue -- and Wong is a man without a position in St. Louis. The emergence of Aledmys Diaz has pushed Jhonny Peralta to third and Matt Carpenter to second. Peralta and Carpenter are both hurt right now, but that's not a reason to say no to a Sale trade.
The Rangers have been connected to Sale more than any other team, so of course we had to include them. It's pretty amazing that they have the prospect firepower to trade for Hamels last year and possibly trade for Sale this year.
Here's a package:
- Two of OF Nomar Mazara, IF Jurickson Profar, and 3B Joey Gallo
- RHP Luis Ortiz (No. 61 on MLB.com's most recent top 100)
- RHP Mike Matuella
- RHP Luke Jackson
The ChiSox would not be wrong to ask for all three of Mazara, Profar, and Gallo. I just have a hard time thinking the Rangers would part with all three, even for someone as good as Sale. Two of the three with Ortiz as the third piece will have to do.
Matuella recently returned from Tommy John surgery and Jackson is an MLB-ready arm who can step right into Chicago's staff. This deal would be about getting two of Mazara, Profar, and Gallo for the White Sox. They're the headliners.
As it stands, the Nationals are pretty well set in the rotation for the foreseeable future. They have Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg signed long-term, plus Joe Ross and Tanner Roark are under control for several more years as well. Sale sure would slot in nicely between Scherzer and Strasburg though, wouldn't he?
Here's a possible trade package:
- RHP Lucas Giolito (No. 1 on MLB.com's most recent top 100)
- RHP Reynaldo Lopez
- RHP Erick Fedde
- RHP Austin Voth
- OF Michael Taylor
Giolito, like Urias and Reyes, is arguably the top pitching prospect in the baseball, and if you're the White Sox, you push for him in a Sale trade. Lopez is a top-50ish pitching prospect himself these days, while Fedde was a first-rounder two years ago who has been limited by Tommy John surgery. Voth is a nearly MLB-ready Triple-A arm and Taylor would fill Chicago's need for a center fielder. He offers some upside too.
Keep in mind pretty much every team would try to acquire Sale. Some have a better chance to get him than others though, namely because of their prospect base and spot in the standings. The seven teams above have the best prospects to offer and the biggest need for an ace-caliber starter, and I'm certain all seven have already checked in with the White Sox.
Who will win the bidding? Maybe no one.