By: Jack Boulia
It’s difficult to trade a franchise player. Take it from me. Since I’ve been writing for this blog, I am an obvious fan of the Red Sox–though a very level headed one at that. However, growing up I was very emotionally invested in the Red Sox, specifically one player. Nomar Garciaparra was my favorite player growing up. In old pictures of me, all you can see me wearing is a mesh “Garciaparra” jersey. My neighbor, an older man, used to tease me about the Red Sox, and in July of 2004, would tell me Nomar is going to be traded. I didn’t believe him, only thinking he was teasing me again. Well, as it turns out, Nomar did get traded, and I cried for days on end and decided it was time to retire the jersey. I was seven at the time. What’s the point of this anecdote? Well. Trading franchise players is hard. But the Red Sox also won the World Series in 2004, breaking an 86-year drought. If they hadn’t traded Nomar, they wouldn’t have won in 2004. Trading a franchise player is never easy, but sometimes it’s necessary.
First, let me start off by saying this. The White Sox are not a good team. They made a flurry of moves this offseason, none particularly damaging, but none that seemed to help, either. It reminded me similarly of the Padres, who I predicted months ago would be bad, and lo and behold, they have been terrible. Well, I wasn’t a White Sox believer, either. But the flurry of moves was indicative of something; they wanted to be competitive. And then they didn’t sell at the deadline. The White Sox, as of today, are playing four games over their expected Pythag/BaseRuns records. They should be a fifty-one win team. Yikes. They also decided to not sell at the deadline because, by some miracle, they hit a minor hot-streak but…are still bad. And irrelevant. But they want to be competitive to the point that it seems desperate. So, you ask, why, why would the White Sox trade away Chris Sale, their franchise player? Well, reader, here’s why.
Chris Sale is the best pitcher in the American League. By a healthy margin. He’s twenty-sixand has compiled 21.8 fWAR. In 2016 he will be paid $9.15MM, 2017 $12MM, and has two incredibly affordable option years for 2018 and 2019 which are locks to be picked up. So Sale is under contract for four more years at an unbelievably low price. According to Dave Cameron, Sale is the sixth most valuable trade piece in all of baseball. Sale would bring back a king’s ransom. I’ve heard a lot of people say “why would the White Sox trade Sale if they want to be competitive?”, but…that’s wrong. Whether or not they trade Sale, he will not be a part of the next competitive White Sox team. They can’t build around Sale and Abreu. Why? Because they tried that and it didn’t work. They are a mid-market team, despite being in Chicago. This offseason they tried to acquire consistent veterans. The problem is, even though baseball players are playing at the highest level, they’re no sure thing. People tend to associate risk with prospects, which is understandable, but tend to remove all risks from established big-leaguers. The White Sox also had a lot of holes, which they could not plug with money or prospects, because they don’t have the money to acquire high-impact players, nor do they have the prospects. They will never be able to build around Sale. Teams make this mistake all the time because they are not willing to stomach the reaction to trading a franchise player. So, if they keep Sale, they will always be stuck in this perpetual grey area, where they will always be a 74-win team. Then when he leaves for free agency, they’ll get a draft pick. Woop-dee-do. Wow. Terrific. Or maybe with a half-season left on his contract, they flip him for a 55 FV guy and change. Wow. And Chris Sale would have been a wasted asset for the White Sox. Now, all this of course is assuming that he stays healthy and this elite. And that’s the real “what if”. The talent is there, no doubt. However. there have been murmurs about Sale’s elbow, and mechanics for a long time. The way he throws is unnatural. He’s lanky. He throws hard. Oh, and the sliders. You can tell he’s acknowledged the sliders because he’s cut down on his usage by more than 10% from previous years. But building around one pitcher, and hoping he keeps doing what he’s doing, is not risky at this point, but just not very intelligent. Building around pitching is risky, especially when it’s not pitching, but just one pitcher.
I also mentioned before that the Sale return would look rather incredible. This is his peak value. Right now. No minor leaguer in baseball would be off the table. You’re looking at a 65 FV, two 60/55 FVs, a 50 FV, and probably a couple low-minors guys (somewhat like what Rafael Devers and Manuel Margot looked like last year). All of a sudden, the White Sox have young, major-league ready talent that costs them nothing. They plug a lot of their holes, and they are able to sign impact guys for a lot of money because the younger guys offset that value. You don’t need to look far to see a team using a similar strategy. In fact, the White Sox need only look across town. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a rebuild, but more of a retooling. This will accelerate the franchise towards a competitive level faster than keeping Sale and crossing their fingers. Chris Sale is only losing value at this point. Teams always wait too long to trade their franchise players. Ask Rockies fans how they feel about their Troy Tulowitzki return, or Phillies fans how they feel about their Cole Hamels return. Trade Chris Sale now and in a couple years ask White Sox fans how it feels to be a perennial contender with roster flexibility, and I’ll bet every seven-year old kid that cried into a mesh Chris Sale jersey won’t want to talk to you. He’ll be too busy watching his Sox in the ALCS, as Julio Urias takes the mound.