Darkhorse Trade Candidates: Chris Sale

Posted: 07/03/2015 by levcohen in Baseball

It’s July, which means baseball’s trade deadline is less than a month away. The rumors have already started, and they are sure to multiply in the coming weeks. There are a number of players who are widely thought of as being available, with the top of that group including Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, Ben Zobrist, Jonathan Papelbon, and even Troy Tulowitzki. I’m not here to talk about those players, although I might in the next few weeks. Instead, I’m on a mission to unearth a few more intriguing, less talked-about trade options.

My quest was not made simpler by MLB’s recent playoff changes. One of the consequences (intended or not) of the addition of the second wild card is that almost every team feels like they are in the hunt. Indeed, most of them are right; only six teams are more than six games out of a playoff spot. This means that, barring a few big losing streaks in the next few weeks, there will be a limited number of sellers. On the bright side for those few, that makes this a seller’s market. I limited my search for the intriguing trade targets to the six teams more than six games out while also including the Reds because they are pretty much known to be looking to sell. I obviously excluded guys like Sonny Gray, Giancarlo Stanton, and Jose Abreu, players who are very unlikely to be traded. The result? Three very good, very valuable players who could conceivably be traded from one of the cellar-dwellars to a contender.

Note: the players’ contract details are the figures listed after their names. I’ll start with Chris Sale today and move on to the others in the coming days.

Chris Sale (signed through 2019 at ~11 mill per year): I’m starting off with the biggest name, and this sounds even crazier given the timing. Two nights ago, Sale became the second pitcher ever (Pedro Martinez was the first) to post eight consecutive double-digit strikeout games. By every metric, he is one of the best pitchers in baseball. He’s second in Fangraphs WAR at 3.7, first in strikeouts with 141 (in just 103.1 innings), and sixth in WHIP at .99. The 26-year old has somehow flown under the radar despite being one of the best pitchers in baseball since he joined the rotation in 2012. Maybe that’s because of his unorthodox style, which has led scouts to predict arm injuries for years. Maybe it’s because he plays for the White Sox, a team that’s been out of contention for the last few years. But it’s time for people to face the fact that he is perhaps the best pitcher in baseball.

Sale is also signed to a ridiculously team-friendly deal. In an era in which the top pitchers are paid top dollar, he is making a third as much as Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer on a per-year basis. Given all that and the fact that he’s signed through his age-30 season and it’s clear that, even if Sale isn’t the best pitcher in baseball, he’s certainly the most valuable one.

Given all of that, why on earth would the White Sox trade him? It seems like he should be the team’s key building block, not the guy they should trade come the end of July. But it’s his immense value that should make Chicago consider a trade. The White Sox are very shallow both at the big league level and in the minors. They were a sexy pick to make a run, but that clearly isn’t happening. The best way to replenish the roster is by dealing Sale.

What could the White Sox get for Sale? Well, because he’s cheap, controllable, and amazing, he’s an unique asset to put on the market. The Sox could expect to get multiple blue chip prospects and/or big-league ready youth. They could probably get both Corey Seager and Julio Urias, both of whom are top-five prospects and future stars, from the Dodgers. They might not be able to get Kris Bryant, another of the most valuable commodities in baseball, from the Cubs, but they could certainly get guys like Addison Russell and Kyle Schwarber. And players like Joc Pederson, Bryant, and Carlos Correa, bright young stars whose teams would surely laugh off nearly any trade offer, just might be on the table. Sale is attractive to win-now big market teams and he’s attractive to win-now small market teams thanks to his low salary. The White Sox could get a few blue-chippers or four or five top 100 prospects. It might not seem like the best idea to trade away the hottest pitcher in baseball, but it would make sense in the longterm because it would give the White Sox valuable depth or a young stud hitter to build around.

Likely landing spots: Dodgers, Cubs, Astros
Expected return: Two top-20 prospects or four+ top-150 prospects
Chance of being traded: Slim

Next up: Todd Frazier


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