Chris Sale has been on the figurative trade block for over a year now and things started to heat up this off-season. Once the 2016 Winter Meeting started on Sunday, things went into hyperdrive, with the Washington Nationals being the most prominent contender to land the 27-year-old ace.
With a sterile free agent market—especially with pitchers—the trade circuit was to be the main source of attention. Tampa’s Chris Archer and Oakland’s Sonny Gray were potentially available, but the golden goose resided in south Chicago with Sale.
Speaking of golden gooses, it would take one to acquire the five-time All-Star. And then some more. Chicago dictated the market with its finest asset and were certainly demanding Yoan Moncada in a potential deal with Boston, Trea Turner or Lucas Giolito in a deal with Washington, Nomar Mazara or Rougned Odor from the Rangers and Alex Bregman from the Astros.
Reports yesterday hinted that the White Sox used Washington’s rumored Lucas Giolito/Victor Robles package as leverage. It appears it worked.
Teams are always gun-shy about dealing their top prospects. Once they make their successful debut, it becomes almost impossible. This was the case with Turner, Mazara and Bregman.
Moncada did make his debut last season, but appeared in just eight games. He’s going to be a stud, but hasn’t had the chance to display it yet at the big league level. If he had played, say half a season like Turner, maybe Boston doesn’t pull the trigger. Or tries to sell the Chi Sox on Rafael Devers fronting a package, since they dealt Anderson Espinzona to San Diego for Drew Pomeranz and his troublesome medical records.
Granted, Turner played out of his mind and is definitely going to be great himself, but I can’t help but think if the Nats had kept him buried in Triple-A (as they did for far too long anyway) they wouldn’t have had a much easier time parting with him.
With that said, around 3 PM EST on Tuesday afternoon, it did end up being Yoan Moncada and three others from the Boston Red Sox to the Chicago White Sox for Chris Sale.
The retooling more so than rebuilding White Sox acquire four prospects total for their former best player. Chicago’s second best team (with all due respect, the Cubs are champs) isn’t far off but aren’t so close and their decision to forgo annual mediocrity is admirable. Bold, but admirable. And risky.
The speculated transaction had been rumored long before Chris Sale became the team’s unsanctioned tailor back in July. The writing was certainly on the wall. Now it’s legitimate.
Moncada, 21, played a lot of third base in his final Red Sox days because of Dustin Pedroiaand will presumably move back to wide open second base for the White Sox. His power from such a position complements a potentially overall Hall of Fame skill set. He was one of the top international signings in 2015 from Cuba.
There’s a reason he could head this package, and a reason the Red Sox were the ones able to acquire Sale. He will slot immediately into the White Sox depth chart. A teenage prodigy in Cuba, he translated perfectly coming to the states.
In just two Minor League Baseball seasons, he slashed a dominant .287/.395/.480 with 23 home runs, 100 RBIs, 94 stolen bases, 9 triples, 114 walks, 204 hits. I think it’s easy to see how the switch-hitting infielder became the top prospect in all of baseball.
Kopech, 20, is ranked 67th overall by MLB.Com and was ranked behind Moncada, Andrew Benintendi, Devers and 2016 first rounder Jason Groome. He will most likely move up to second in his transition to the other Sox system. He reportedly hit 105 MPH in July.
The 2014 first rounder has had a rocky road to top prospect status, including a 50-game drug suspension and an altercation with a teammate in Low-A. In 2016, however, he found his way in 2016. He throws 95 comfortably and consistently and can hit triple digits. He also twirls a fast breaking ball that packs a very effective punch. He struck out 86 batters in 56.1 innings this year (13.7 K/9) and has retired 172 batters on strikeouts in 134.2 Minor League innings.
The second arm going to the south side is Victor Diaz. The 22-year old is the least projectable but still very talented piece of this five-player blockbuster. Signed out of the Dominican Republic in 2014 and having finished 2016 in Low-A Greenville, I suspect the White Sox have plans to advance him to High-A at the onset of the 2017 season and push him as a reliever.
Diaz throws an electric heater, throwing just as hard as the flamethrower Kopech. His stuff rates superior to his command and along with a slider he also features a heavy splitter. Most pitching prospects dabble with starting, but he has yet to and at 22 I don’t think the White Sox plan to dramatically alter his course. He ranked 28th in the Red Sox system but could jump into the 10 or 11 of the White Sox hierarchy.
The final player in the trade is one of two identical twins the Red Sox signed out of Venezuela back in 2012. They’ve now traded both, having dealt Luis Alejandro to the Arizona Diamondbacks earlier this year for reliever Brad Ziegler. Luis Alexander has now also been traded.
Basabe is very raw and still very young at age 20. He’s already tasted High-A because of his five tool potential. While his bat may be a little behind developmentally, his arm and glove are already well ahead of the curve.
He’s exactly what scouts dream of, projectable all over the board. He’s an exciting talent to watch and is now on the national scene for taking part in this trade. Basabe ranked 8th on MLB.Com prior to the deal. He will definitely jump with the Sox but not by too much seeing as two players ranked above him will also be making the trip west.
It’s a steep, steep price to pay. But such is reality for a 27-year-old bonafide ace with a remarkably convenient $29.5 million left on his contract over three seasons. He will be an unrestricted free agent in 2020 at age 31.