This deadline has, thus far, been pretty boring. When Andrew Cashner and Eduardo Nunez are headlining notable trades, you know it’s a slow market. There is one guy who could change all that though, and could have a significant impact on how the postseason shakes out. That guy, of course, is Chris Sale.
The White Sox ace is a legitimate difference maker; even with just a couple months left in the season, he still projects to add another +2 WAR to whatever team he’s on, not counting what he’ll do in the postseason. He’s a high-end player in the prime of his career, and since he’s signed for three more years after this one, he’s also one of the most valuable assets in the sport.
When we did the Trade Value series a few weeks ago, I ranked Sale as the 15th most valuable trade chip in the game. Here is the table that we used to summarize his value.
|Team Control WAR Total||+17.1|
|Guaranteed Dollars||$12.0 M|
|Team Control Through||2019|
|Year||Age||Projected WAR||Contract Status|
Keep in mind that the Team Control WAR line was just looking at future years, so it doesn’t include the remainder of 2016; with that included, Sale is pushing up against a projected +20 WAR during the rest of his contract. Using our Contract Estimating tool, we can come up with something like an expected market value for that level of projected performance.
|2016||27||2.0||$8.0 M||$16.0 M|
|2017||28||6.1||$8.4 M||$51.2 M|
|2018||29||5.7||$8.8 M||$50.1 M|
|2019||30||5.3||$9.3 M||$49.3 M|
Now, this tool is a blunt-force object, and doesn’t take a bunch of factors into account; for instance, the deadline premium isn’t included here, and it’s pretty clear that contending teams would value the rest of Sale’s 2016 performance at more than $16 million, so that part is clearly too low. On the other hand, teams have chosen to reduce the annual salary of high-end players by compensating them with long-term deals and opt-outs instead, so we don’t necessarily know that teams would value Sale as a $50 million per year player in order to account for the shorter duration of his contract and the fact that the options are held by the team, not the player. That $167M estimate is just that, and not a precise figure; I’d say it’s pretty easy to argue the number down as low as $150M, and up as high as $175M, but his value is likely somewhere in that range.
Over the rest of his contract, Sale will be paid about $41 million. This is a guy with at least $100 million in value above and beyond his contract, and probably closer to $125 million. You remember that Aroldis Chapman package? Sale is worth something like two to three times the value the Yankees got back in that deal. You can see why the White Sox haven’t really wanted to trade him.
But there are contenders with the young talent to put that kind of package together. Let’s take a look at some of the options, and try and eyeball how they’d offer the White Sox $125 million in value in order to get them to move their ace.
Julio Urias is certainly a strong starting point. Pitchers ranked in the top 10 on prospect lists are worth something like $70 million, and given that Urias is closer to #1 than #10 and has already pitched well in the big leagues, he’s probably worth a bit more than that. I’d eyeball his value at around $80 million, meaning he gets you most of the way to Sale by himself. But the Dodgers would need to add some additional value as well.
Cody Bellinger, for instance, would be an interesting second piece. He ranked #24 on BA’s midseason list, and #43 on MLB.com’s list, so he’s probably worth something like $40-$50 million. Bellinger — a kid who just turned 21 and is already hitting well in Double-A, and has some potential value as a quality defensive first baseman — is the kind of higher-floor option who could round out a package led by a boom-or-bust asset in a 19-year-old pitching prospect.
If the White Sox preferred an outfielder instead, Alex Verdugo ranked #44 on BA’s list and #58 on MLB.com’s update, and is also already succeeding in Double-A at a young age. KATOH absolutely loves Verdugo, for what its worth, and if the White Sox could get him as a second piece along with Urias, this deal would have tremendous upside for the White Sox.
Realistically, Sale wouldn’t be traded for just two players, as teams like to get quantity back in these deals as well. So add in some lower-level lottery ticket types, or maybe a big league ready depth arm like Carlos Frias, and the Dodgers would have the kind of offer on the table that provides enough value that the White Sox should pull the trigger on a deal.
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.
The Rangers have enough young talent to mix-and-match in case the White Sox don’t like those specific players. Jurickson Profar could work his way into the deal, for instance, though his value is tougher to peg because he’s already going to be in his arbitration years after this season, so it’s not a lot of long-term value for a young unproven player. But if Texas really wants Sale, they have the pieces to do keep up with Boston and Los Angeles, and he would improve their rotation more than he would any other team in the race.
It wouldn’t be an easy group to give up, as Gallo and Brinson could both be everyday players for the Rangers quite soon, but both are also high-risk assets, and the Rangers don’t really have a “safe” young player to offer like LA or Boston, so they’d probably have to try and overwhelm the White Sox with potential. That’s why they’d probably have to put a third legitimate top 100 prospect in the deal, in a guy like Ortiz, and even then, the White Sox might prefer to get a little more value by getting a better top guy than a better third piece.
Of course, we’re spitballing as outsiders here, and we don’t know what the offers for Sale have actually been. Given the lack of pitching available, perhaps the White Sox should charge even more than this, citing the Chapman deal as proof of the insane value of pitching upgrades right now. But as a .500ish team without a clear path to contention, if an offer like one of these is on the table, I’d suggest that Rick Hahn and his staff should strongly consider taking it. With each of the three potential deals, they’d get guys back who could start for them in 2017, and if they hit on the second piece in the deal as well, they could end up not much worse off than they would be by keeping Sale, plus add a lot of long-term value to the franchise.
Sale is worth an exceptional return. Thankfully for the White Sox, there are three contenders who could use him who can offer exceptional returns. I know a deal is still considered unlikely, but there are enough potential fits here that I think Sale should be wearing another uniform by Monday afternoon.
Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.