Let me start off by saying there is no reason to believe the White Sox have any interest in trading Chris Sale. Whether they SHOULD look to trade him is another argument altogether.
The reason for this post came to me after reading Grantland’s Jonah Keri’s annual “Trade Value Rankings,” in which he lists the Top 50 most valuable trade assets in the league.
Keri takes into consideration things like age, contract and positional scarcity, and his take is always at least fairly interesting and entertaining, as pointless as the exercise as a whole it might be.
Anyway, it won’t surprise you to know that of the 50 players Keri listed, there was only one White Sox player. Keri ranked Sale as the 10th most valuable trade asset in the league, saying this about the White Sox ace:
Meanwhile, Sale followed an excellent 2012 season with an even better 2013 campaign, posting a 3.07 ERA and similar defense-independent numbers. He averaged more than seven innings per start, and has put aside the durability concerns that hung over him when he converted from relief to the rotation. He is owed just $31 million over the next four years, or $57 million over six if the White Sox pick up his 2018 and 2019 options.
The 10 players Keri ranked ahead of Sale, in order from 1-9, are: Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Evan Longoria, Buster Posey, Jose Fernandez, Manny Machado, Paul Goldschmidt and Miguel Cabrera.
What does all this mean? Nothing, of course. But it got me thinking about what type of package the White Sox could actually get if they dangled Sale. As Keri notes, Sale has an incredibly generous contract for the next six years, and most of his durability concerns have disappeared as he’s thrown 406.1 innings during the past two seasons.
While the White Sox don’t appear to be actively shopping Sale, general manager Rick Hahn didn’t go as far as to completely rule out any trade, per the Chicago Tribune’s Colleen Kane last month:
“We’re not doing our jobs if we’re not open-minded and listening to ideas, but … having Chris at the front of our rotation we think is a big part of (our) potential for success,” said Hahn, who also made reference to first baseman Jose Abreu and outfielder Avisail Garcia.
So what could teams potentially offer for the White Sox ace? It’s tough to say.
There isn’t a lot of precedent for a pitcher of Sale’s age and talent being traded. The closest that I could find in recent years is when the San Diego Padres sent Mat Latos to the Cincinnati Reds for a package that included Edinson Volquez, Yonder Alonso, Yasmani Grandal and Brad Boxberger. Latos was 24 at the time of the deal, but while he was seen to have ace-like potential, he wasn’t nearly as established as Sale is. The White Sox would have to expect a better return than what San Diego got in that deal.
Another trade that comes to mind is last year’s James Shields for Wil Myers trade between the Tampa Bay Rays and Kansas City Royals. The deal isn’t completely comparable because of the age of Shields (31 at the start of last season), but because of the type of trade it was. Unlike the Latos deal, this was a simple trade of established major leaguer for top prospect.
Would the White Sox consider trading Sale for a young talent like Oscar Taveras or Jurickson Profar? Would the Cardinals or Rangers do that? And would a “sure thing” trade be better than a package of three or four lesser prospects?
Again, there’s no definitive answer to any of these questions. But if the White Sox are willing to sacrifice success in the short term for the possibility of long-term success, it’d be wise for Hahn to listen to any and all offers, even if it means making White Sox baseball a little more miserable to watch in 2014.