After days of speculation that Chris Sale was close to becoming the newest member of the Washington Nationals, the Boston Red Sox sent shockwaves throughout Major League Baseball by completing a deal for the ace on Tuesday afternoon.
The Nationals were prepared to send a package headlined by top pitching prospect Lucas Giolito to the Chicago White Sox for Sale, but when the talks intensified to the point of what seemed to be a likely agreement, the Red Sox made a play for the 27-year-old left-hander.
While it came as a surprise that the Red Sox won the Sale sweepstakes, the architect of the trade has a long history of blockbuster trades.
Dave Dombrowski cemented his reputation as an aggressive trader while with the Detroit Tigers, making several deals to land stars in exchange for young talent.
Almost a year to the day in which Dombrowski made his first major move as the lead decision-maker for the Red Sox by giving David Price a seven-year, $217 million contract, he further fortified a rotation that figures to make Boston a frontrunner in the American League.
As you might expect, the cost to acquire Sale was significant. While the Nationals refused to discuss phenom Trea Turner in talks, the Red Sox were able to get Rick Hahn to finally move his ace by sending Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech (as well as Victor Diaz and Luis Alexander Basabe) to Chicago. Sale had been on the trade block in some fashion for the better part of a year after Hahn’s recent winter gambles failed to pay off.
Sale is among baseball’s best pitchers and is under team control through 2019 at a very team-friendly number. He will make just $12 million next season and the Red Sox hold team options on him for $12.5 million and $13.5 million in 2018 and 2019, respectively. The average annual value of Price’s deal, which still carries six seasons, is $31 million. The Red Sox can employ Sale for the next three seasons for a total of $38 million.
Since becoming a full-time starter in 2012, Sale has never finished lower than sixth in AL Cy Young voting and has posted elite statistics with a 3.06 FIP, 10.0 K/9 and 14 complete games in 148 starts. He’s ranked among the top six AL pitchers in strikeouts in each of the last four seasons.
There is little doubt Sale will make the Red Sox better, allowing John Farrell, who recently had his 2018 option picked up a year before the front office faced a deadline on the decision, to slide Price to the No. 2 role and AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello to third in the rotation. With the New York Yankees not yet ready to augment their young lineup with expensive stars, the Toronto Blue Jays likely moving on from Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, the Tampa Bay Rays still retooling amid rumors they may look to move Evan Longoria and/or Chris Archer and the Baltimore Orioles facing questions of their own, the Red Sox could underperform in 2017 and still win the AL East comfortably.
Of course, simply winning the division wasn’t enough for the Red Sox this past season and certainly won’t be after establishing a “win now” focus by mortgaging potential for more tangible firepower.
Baseball’s analytically minded seamheads tend to undervalue the present in favor of the future, but there is a good chance we’ll look back at this trade and count it as a win for both sides.
The danger for Dombrowski is obvious, but is not guaranteed to manifest itself on the playing field. Sale could flame out in Boston -- just look at Price’s disappointing first season with the Red Sox -- and Moncada and Kopech could blossom into stars in Chicago. That would be the worst-case scenario for the Red Sox, but hindsight is always 20/20 and Moncada wasn’t likely to increase Boston’s chances at winning a World Series in 2017.
Even if Moncada becomes the next Carlos Correa, Dombrowski should be applauded for taking a calculated gamble. The Red Sox best chance to win it all with the current core is the next few years. Price, struggles notwithstanding, is still on the favorable half of his monster contract. Porcello, 27, and is under contract for three more seasons at a reasonable rate ($21.125 million) for a Cy Young winner. Craig Kimbrel has two more years before he can hit free agency and remains on the right side of 30.
David Ortiz might be gone, but Dustin Pedroia is still squeezing production out of his pint-sized body and Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Mookie Betts are all established Major Leaguers with enough youth to provide further promise. If Andrew Benintendi blooms into what the Red Sox believe he can and Eduardo Rodriguez is more 2015 than 2016, the championship window looks much better right now than it would have when Moncada and Co. eventually finished marinating in Portland and Pawtucket.
Grade for the Red Sox: A-
No analysis of this trade can be made without giving Ben Cherington credit for providing Dombrowski with the assets he used to broker the deal. Not only did Cherington equip Dombrowski with Moncada and Kopech, but he also refused to pull the trigger on megadeals of his own -- keeping Bradley, Betts and Bogaerts in the organization.
Hahn has received his fair share of criticism lately, but the haul he received for Sale was a good one. You could argue that getting Giolito and others from the Nationals might have been better, but the package he ultimately received could pay dividends on the mound and in the infield going forward.
Moncada is baseball’s top prospect, according to Baseball America, and is the first No. 1 prospect to be traded in the last 25 years. Kopech impressed in the Arizona Fall League while hitting triple-digits on the radar gun. Basabe and Diaz ranked as Boston’s No. 8 and No. 22 prospects, respectively.
Grade for the White Sox: A
As appealing and marketable as Sale is to any franchise, coming off a 78-win season the White Sox had little use for such a luxury. Dealing him now allowed them to acquire a top prospect and signals that more veterans will be on the move this winter. Expect to hear Jose Abreu’s name in trade rumors until he too is dealt.