Breaking Down the Chris Sale Trade

Joe Clark

On Tuesday afternoon, hours after acquiring Tyler Thornburg from the Brewers and right before signing Mitch Moreland, the Red Sox and White Sox struck the biggest deal of the Winter Meetings, which sent Chris Sale to the Red Sox and four prospects, including Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech to the White Sox. While I like this trade from both sides, we’ll break it down to see how it benefits each team.

From the Red Sox prospective, Sale provides another ace to give the Red Sox one of, if not the best rotations in baseball. Adding Sale to a rotation that includes David Price and 2016 AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, in addition to Steven Wright and Eduardo Rodriguez or Drew Pomeranz makes the Red Sox rotation extremely dangerous, especially in a playoff series. Sale is a top five pitcher in baseball, and while you can look at his ERA the last two seasons (3.41 in 2015 and 3.34 in 2016), Sale lead the league in FIP in 2015 at 2.73, and in 2015 struck out 11.5 batters per 9, and struck out 9.3 per 9 last season. He’s also on one of the most team-friendly contracts in baseball, as he’s making a total of $39 million total through the end of 2019. In addition, his numbers have been hurt by the atrocious catching the White Sox possessed. In terms of pitch framing, Dioner Navarro finished 16.8 runs below average, the worst in the MLB, while Alex Avila came in at 6.8 runs below average. Meanwhile, Christian Vasquez is one of the best pitch framers in baseball, coming in at 10 runs above average. That alone should improve Sale’s numbers in Boston, making him an even more effective starter. While the price they paid for Sale was enormous, the Red Sox recognized that their window is now, and getting Sale makes them very viable World Series contenders.

The White Sox, while losing the best pitcher in baseball, still made themselves better in the long term. They weren’t going to improve on their 78-84 finish last season, so moving Sale now where he still has three years of team control was smart. The headliners of the trade were Yoan Moncada, the #1 overall prospect in baseball, and Michael Kopech, a top 70 prospect who reportedly touched 105 MPH in a game earlier this year. Moncada is a legitimate 5 tool player, and if he develops could be one of the best offensive players in the game. He struggles a little bit defensively though, and profiles best as a second baseman. He also strikes out too much, but if he cuts down on his K rate just a little bit he can become an even more dangerous offensive threat. He’s arguably the best offensive prospect since Mike Trout, and with his enormous potential he could become a huge key to an eventual White Sox World Series team. In Kopech, the White Sox get a guy with #2 starter potential who routinely hits 98-101 MPH on the gun, although with command issues. He had an amazing Arizona Fall League, which boosted his prospect status, but off the field issues (fight with a teammate, 50 game suspension for use of a banned substance) have hindered him on the field. He still projects to be a very solid pitcher, although there are questions whether that will be as a starter or a reliever. The other pieces of this trade for Chicago were Luis Alexander Basabe, a speedy 2B/CF who had a good season in A Greenville (12 HR, 25 SB) but projects more as a 4th OF. Still, if he can make his way into the starting lineup he could end up being a serviceable starting outfielder. The final piece of the trade for Chicago was Victor Diaz, who could end up being a decent set up man if he makes it to the majors. Even if Basabe and Diaz don’t pan out, Moncada could very well win an MVP or two in his future and Kopech could end up being a 200+ K stud in the bigs.

The day after they traded Sale, they traded Adam Eaton to the Nationals for Lucas Giolito, the best pitching prospect in baseball, Reynaldo Lopez, another top 100 pitching prospect, and Dane Dunning, the Nationals 6th best prospect. Adding Kopech, Giolito, and Dunning to a prospect pool that features Carson Fulmer, Alec Hansen, and Carlos Rodon, who made a big impact in the majors last year makes the White Sox farm system very, very dangerous.

While the Sale traded benefited both teams, the Red Sox got better immediately, taking advantage of the championship window, while the White Sox smartly made moves for the future, and they still have Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu, and Melky Cabrera to trade. The White Sox could exit the offseason with the best farm system in the bigs, and it might not be all that close to whoever is #2. I love what both teams have done this offseason, and I think that both of these teams will win at least one championship within the next eight years thanks to their moves so far this offseason.