MLB Hot Stove Trade Rumors: Here are the six teams in hot pursuit of Chris Sale
The White Sox lefty could be the catch of the offseason
We've known for a while that the White Sox may trade Chris Sale this offseason. The club's attempts at contention over the last two seasons have come up short, and the increasing sentiment on the South Side is that a reset is needed. They're reportedly not inclined to move core contributors still under long-term control -- Jose Quintana and Jose Abreu, for instance. However, those with a somewhat shorter free agency horizon -- Sale, Todd Frazier and David Robertson, for instance -- are thought to be available. The greatest of these is, of course, Sale.
The hard-throwing lefty has established himself as a frontline ace and perennial Cy Young contender (he boasts a 135 ERA+ for his career, and his career K/BB ratio of 4.78 leads all active qualifiers), and he's done it despite pitching his home games in a great park for power hitters and working in front of generally poor team defenses. He's going into his age-28 season in 2017, so he's not yet at an age that lends itself to decline. Also, despite what appears to be a high-stress delivery, Sale has been mostly healthy and pretty durable since transitioning to a starting role. Adding to his already substantial appeal is that he's locked in to a team-friendly contract through 2019. Here's how the money breaks down:
- 2017: $12 million
- 2018: $12.5 million club option/$1 million buyout
- 2019: $13.5 million club option/$1 million buyout (2019 option can increase in value based on incentives)
Those are bargain rates for a pitcher of Sale's caliber, to say the least. While exercising those club options will almost certainly be a no-brainer, the low-cost buyouts do provide some protection for the club if Sale somehow sees his value utterly collapse over the next three seasons. To put a finer point on it, that's $38 million for Sale through 2019, and over that same span Mike Leake will make $48 million, plus another $20 million guaranteed left on his contract. Such is the difference between pre-free agency contract extensions and deals signed on the open market.
Given all that, it's no surprise that the White Sox are probably getting plenty of calls on Sale. Any contending team or even quasi-contending team can use a pitcher like Sale at those rates, and the trade market will reflect that. Speaking of the Sale market, Jon Heyman of FanRagSports reports on the six teams that are right now most in pursuit of Sale. Those teams, according to Heyman, are the Nationals, Astros, Braves, Red Sox, Rangers and Dodgers. Heyman's piece has more, including other teams on the periphery of Sale talks, and it's worth bearing in mind that these things are always fluid. That said, let's look at these six teams one by one with an eye toward their suitability as a Sale destination ...
The Nats are in win-now mode, and they're understandably weary of first-round playoff exits. They also want certainty in the rotation behind/alongside NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer. That's especially the case given the ongoing elbow concerns of Stephen Strasburg. For the Nats, though, it's probably a matter of prioritizing. They have the young controllable talent that the White Sox will be seeking, but they're also heavily rumored to be after Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates in trade. Do they have enough "flippable" prospects to snare both, and are they willing to gut the system to such an extent? If GM Mike Rizzo ascertains that one or the other is doable, perhaps he'd lean Sale, since the free-agent market for outfielders isn't as barren as it is for starting pitching.
The Astros have been relevant in each of the past two seasons and made the playoffs in 2015. This winter, they've been among the most active teams, which obviously suggests that that they're going for it in 2017. They need help in the rotation, though. Dallas Keuchel's regression in 2016 furthermore suggests that they need help at the front end. While Keuchel figures to be better in 2017 than he was last season, it's not certain he's ever going to be the ace of 2015 again. The question for the Houston front office is whether they can pay the trade freight on Sale without cutting into the portions of the talent base that will help them in 2017. The farm system is a far cry from what it once was thanks to trades and promotions, and the challenge will be putting together a competitive offer than doesn't eat away at the current active roster.
It's hard to call the Braves contenders in 2017, but they're emerging from a deep rebuild and are looking to reinvigorate the fan base as they move into a new suburban ballpark. They've also been committed to improving the rotation this offseason, what with the free agent additions of Bartolo Colon and R.A Dickey and the recent trade for Jaime Garcia. Sale would of course be a longer-term asset who should still be performing at a high level when the Braves are truly ready to contend again. Given the Braves' embarrassment of riches at the minor-league level, there's little doubt that they could put together a compelling offer. You can of course argue that the Braves are set up well enough with starting pitching, especially considering that they have a great deal of minor-league pitching on the way, but they've got no one on Sale's level.
Boston Red Sox
You can make the case that the Red Sox are the AL's strongest team on paper right now, and adding Sale to the fold means you could at least squint at call the Red Sox the best team in baseball going into 2017 (yes, I'm aware of the Cubs' championship and roster strengths). A rotation fronted by Sale, David Price, and AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello in tandem with perhaps baseball's best offense? That's imposing indeed. The Red Sox are committed to winning the World Series in 2017, and chief lever-puller Dave Dombrowski has never shied away from trading long-term assets for near-term ones (not that Sale is "merely" a near-term contributor). If a package centered around, say, Yoan Moncada is enough, then the Red Sox could be among the most serious of serious players for Sale.
Texas has rotation concerns behind Yu Darvish and Cole Hamels (that's the case even after the Andrew Cashner addition), and looking further ahead Darvish is eligible for free agency next offseason. Sale moves the needle for Jon Daniels and company in a big way for 2017 and provides a hedge against Darvish's possible departure. GM Rick Hahn and the White Sox are said to favor young talent that's closer to the majors rather than at the lower rungs of a system, and the Rangers have plenty of that on the position player side. In a way, though, their dilemma is similar to Houston's just down the road. Parting with what it would take to get Sale might chip away too much at their 2017 plans. The Rangers are also coming off a 2016 non-waiver deadline in which they paid a steep cost in young talent for Jonathan Lucroy and Jeremy Jeffress.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Sale behind Clayton Kershaw is, to say the least, a tantalizing possibility. The Dodgers, though, are one of the teams hit hardest by free agency. They'll need to replace or re-up with, for instance, Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Chase Utley, and that's to say nothing of deadline pick-ups Rich Hill and Josh Reddick (Reddick has already signed with the Astros). The club's desire to become more payroll efficient under Andrew Friedman would seem to run counter to, say, trading away so much service time for Sale. They have the kinds of players the White Sox figure to covet, but something about this doesn't feel like a 2016-17 Dodgers kind of move.
As noted, others are sure to be putting out feelers. Again, given the thin free-agent market for starting pitching, the cost for Sale is going to be high, especially given his excellence and affordability. The cost is going to be high, but one of the teams above may wind up paying it. If and when they do, it may wind up being the biggest transaction of the offseason.
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