After years of rumors and speculation, Chris Sale has finally been traded.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 6, 2016
Even with David Price and Rick Porcello, the Red Sox always seemed like a potential fit. Dave Dombrowski was brought in to win in the short-term, and he’s always done that by turning prospects into star players; this is exactly the kind of deal that he’s made his name on. He loves frontline starting pitchers. He had a loaded farm system; at least, he did a year ago before he started trading it for veterans.
So, yeah, we shouldn’t be too surprised that Dombrowski was the guy who eventually agreed to pay the price that got Sale out of Chicago. And the price was definitely steep. As of right now, we only know the Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech names, but there will be a couple other guys in the deal as well. When discussing potential packages for Sale this summer, I wrote the following.
Boston Red SoxThis one’s pretty easy; the team could start the bidding with either Yoan Moncada (#1 BA/#2 MLB) or Andrew Benintendi (#9 BA/#7 MLB) and go from there. Top 10 hitting prospects are highly valuable assets because they usually combine upside and proximity to the big leagues, and thus are worth something like $75 million; Moncada may be worth closer to $100 million, since he’s the guy who might be the top overall prospect in the game right now.
So the White Sox would be right to demand either in a deal, but even Sale isn’t worth both, so the Red Sox would have to pick which of the two they wanted to keep around, and then add some additional value beyond giving up a terrific young hitter. If Benintendi was the main piece, Rafael Devers (#41 BA/#25 MLB) would be a reasonable piece to add, putting the Red Sox package on part with a Urias/Bellinger or Urias/Verdugo offer from Los Angeles.
If Moncada is the guy they’re sending to Chicago, though, Devers’ value probably pushes the deal past what Sale is worth; his value gets you most of the way to Sale, so the second piece could be a higher risk guy like hard-throwing righty Michael Kopech (#93 BA/#83 MLB), since back-end Top 100 pitching prospects are worth about $15 million. Toss in some sweeteners on top of that, and the White Sox would at least have to think about it, as Moncada and Kopech could give them a pretty great return.
Hey, look, Moncada and Kopech, plus some “sweeteners”. Sometimes, the things we write don’t end up being too crazy.
But yeah, this is more what we thought Sale would command. He’s worth so much. We’re talking about a guy who would probably get something between $35-$40 million a year on a six or seven year deal as a free agent this winter; instead, he’s going to make $38 million over the next three years combined. If Sale hit the open market right now and said he’d only sign a three year deal to mitigate a team’s long-term risk, the bidding would probably start at $125 million, and I wouldn’t be shocked if someone ended up at $140 or $150 million. Sale has something like $100 million in surplus value, and if you weight present value over long-term value, it’s easy to argue that he’s worth more than any prospect in baseball.
And realistically, Moncada is exactly the kind of prospect that made sense as the headliner in a Sale deal. Quoting myself again, from my piece on trading a stud for Chris Sale last week.
That’s why a Red Sox deal makes more sense centered around Yoan Moncada, who probably isn’t quite ready to help the Red Sox win in 2017. You swap out Moncada for Sale, and all of the sudden, the Red Sox are probably three or four wins better than they are right now. That’s a huge change in expected outcomes, and starts to be worth the long-term value being surrendered.
Moncada is a terrific prospect, but he was probably not ready to help the Red Sox win in 2017. Maybe he could have helped down the stretch, maybe, but it wasn’t anything the team could really count on, so by building a deal around a guy who is entirely future value, the Red Sox maximize their upgrade for 2017. And it’s a big upgrade.
At the back of their rotation, they have Drew Pomeranz and Clay Buchholz, both who project as something like league average starters next year. Both have been better than that recently, but both have also had injury problems and have pitched more effectively in relief, so the team certainly has options. Pomeranz could move to the bullpen and give them a high quality lefty, in which case they’d get roughly a three win upgrade in the rotation, plus whatever value Pomeranz adds in relief over the team’s other lefty relief options. Or they could keep Pomeranz in the rotation and trade Buchholz, freeing up $13 million in salary to spend elsewhere, maybe on an upgrade at 3B or DH.
The Red Sox roster isn’t done yet, but it’s already quite good. With this trade accounted for, here are our current projected standings for 2017.
We have the Red Sox as almost the equal of the Cubs, and that’s without a DH, and with maybe an upgradeable hole at third base. Sure, they’ll lose some value if they dump Buccholz in order to free up money to add one of those guys, but the point is clear; the Red Sox have made themselves the class of the American League, at this point.
The door isn’t closed on the rest of the league. The Indians could get a real boost if they signed Edwin Encarnacion or some other quality 1B/DH. The Astros could still get a rotation upgrade that pushes them up another few more wins. Nothing is set in stone in December.
But the Red Sox just got a lot better in a hurry. They paid a very high price to do so, and if Moncada turns into what people think he might turn into, there could be some long-term pains watching him play for the White Sox. And Michael Kopech has the kind of velocity that makes it easy to dream on his upside. Long-term, the Red Sox may now be on the Tigers path.
But the Red Sox already had the best young core of position players in the American League. They have a star young right fielder, a star young shortstop, and really good pieces around those guys. And now they have maybe the two best left-handed pitchers in the American League. This roster is beastly.
By getting Sale without moving anything off their big league roster, the Red Sox have made themselves the team to beat in the American League. They paid an elite price to get an elite player, and now, the 2016 AL Cy Young winner is their #3 starter. Good luck to the rest of the AL East; this is not going to be an easy team to take down for the next few years.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.