Let’s get this out of the way before going any further in discussing the possibility of the White Sox trading Chris Sale.
The Sox’ front office deserves an A for taking Sale 13th overall in the 2010 draft. It deserves another A for skillfully coaching him and keeping him healthy — in the face of skeptical detractors who believed his mechanics and delivery were high-risk for injury — through five seasons as a starter. And it deserves an A-plus for signing him to a $32.5 million contract extension in 2013, which leaves the five-time All-Star and Cy Young candidate under club control for another three seasons after this one (at $12 million, $12.5 million and $13.5 million), including team options for the last two.
But because meaningless games in September have become an annual proceeding, the front office has been forced to consider dealing their ace left-hander despite everything that is excellent about his Clayton Kershaw-level talent, youth (27) and treasured contract value. For that, an F grade is in order.
In Sale, the Sox have what every general manager covets — a starting pitcher with stuff and swagger you want taking the ball in Game 1 of the postseason. But what good is it to have one when you can’t get him beyond Game 162?
At 67-72 going into this weekend’s home series against the Kansas City Royals, the Sox appear destined to finish in fourth place after finishing fifth, fourth and fourth among five division teams after their second-place finish in 2012, Sale’s first as a starter.
And here they are, with a thin minor-league system giving fans these Class AAA September call-ups with whom to size up the Sox’ future: Leury Garcia, Jason Coats, Blake Smith, Kevan Smith and Juan Minaya. (To be fair, the Sox do have higher-ceiling prospects such as first-round right-handers Carson Fulmer and Zack Burdi who did not get a call.)
Thus all this talk about Sale. And why consider a trade? Because the Sox, as one former American League executive said, would “get a boatload” in return, that’s why. The fans know it, and a sizable portion has been vocal about supporting it because it wants change.
It was written here after the deadline that Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf had misgivings about trading Sale or Jose Quintana, and that might still be the case. But other GMs, restricted by what they could give up while in contention in July, won’t be shackled in December and could sweeten the pots. It’s easy to envision a bidding war breaking out for Sale.
“In return, you would want guys who are ready to step in right away at the big-league level next year so fans and media can see immediate returns,’’ the former exec said.
The Sox’ greatest needs are at catcher, outfield, perhaps designated hitter and anyplace else where offense can be upgraded, which is why they asked about Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez and Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley (in packages) before the Aug. 1 non-waiver trade deadline. But the Sox should also want “young, controllable [starters] plus young, controllable relievers who are ready to contribute right away,’’ the former exec said.
Position players can be acquired more easily through free agency or trades involving lesser players, he said, so “you’ve got to get huge-upside, young, controllable pitching if you trade a once-in-20-years pitcher like Sale.’’
A thin free-agent class for pitching will only heighten Sale’s value.
“I really think it just becomes get the best package you can,’’ a veteran AL Central source said.
“Since they’ll want a king’s ransom, they can try to get a mix of pitching and position players. And since they’ll be losing an outstanding pitcher, it makes sense that they’ll want at least one high-ceiling, big-prospect pitcher in return.’’