Part Two of Anthony Rescan’s series as he proposes ways to turnaround the Chicago White Sox. You can find part one here.
Chris Sale is one of the top five pitchers in the game, assuredly. He is only twenty-six years old and he is on one of the best contracts in baseball. Quite simply, Chris Sale is one of the most valuable trade pieces in all of baseball and, quite likely, its most valuable pitcher.
Sale’s exploits are fairly well documented. On the other hand, he is mired in obscurity on the Southside, so they’re worth going over. In his time as a full-time starter, Sale’s lowest strikeout rate was 24.9% in 2012. That’s incredible. Coupling that with his highest walk rate at 6.6%, also in 2012. Currently, Sale has lit the league on fire and has racked up a 34.6% strikeout rate. His tendency to end things at the plate is why he is a DIPS darling. Sale’s career FIP and xFIP are both 2.90 and he is currently registering a career low 2.09. He is also doing all of this with a sustainable .299 BABIP to his name. Fair to say that Sale has been absolutely astounding this season, which only furthers his astronomical value.
Let me get this out-of-the-way first. When the White Sox make Chris Sale available, they will get calls from twenty-nine teams. There is no question about that. The difficulty in a Sale trade is that because he is so highly valued, it may limit the market for him. For example, two of the teams that seemed to be most tossed around vis-à-vis Sale are the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Chicago Cubs due to their match with position player prospects. On first glance, that would make sense one value to move Sale in a deal for a Seager or Russell package. The problem is that the opportunity cost for these teams to acquire Sale is too high given the Dodgers’ propensity to spend and the Cubs’ current state of financial liquidity with their young roster. When weighing this move, it isn’t Sale vs Russell or Seager; it is Sale vs Russell/Seager and a free agent ace. That is why smaller market teams like the Braves and Rangers, along with a Red Sox team that is tied into a ton of long-term money all make sense from an opportunity cost perspective.
Trade Parter: Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox initially strike me as the perfect trade partner. Through the years, they have drafted and traded incredibly well to stock their farm system with talented players. Many of those talented players – most of whom are position players – are either in the majors or knocking on the door. On top of this, they have tied up a massive amount of long-term money into players like Hanley Ramirez, which may limit their ability or willingness to commit to large contracts in free agency. Meanwhile, Sale’s contract would be an incredibly easy pill for them to swallow, especially given his quality. To put it in context, the average value of Sale’s four remaining years is just a tad over half of the average value of Porcello’s new four-year deal.
The first name that comes into my head for a potential Sale deal is shortstop Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts is heralded as a “super prospect.” He is a shortstop with a ton of power potential for his position. It is generally thrown around that he could smack about thirty home runs when he fills out and develops his bat fully. Though he has not fully gotten traction in the big leagues, Bogaerts has already shown signs of improvement. From 2014 to 2015, he has lopped off about ten points from his strikeout rate, drastically improved both his wOBA and wRC+, and improved his fielding at shortstop, where he has begun playing full-time again. Basically, at 22, he is already Alexei Ramirez at his best. Once he starts getting his power going and walking more, he will be one of the best shortstops in baseball, if not one of its best players.
Bogaerts being the most valuable young player in this article makes the second piece to this deal a little trickier. That said, Henry Owens would be an attractive piece for the White Sox to add. Owens is an advanced TOR prospect with a plus-plus changeup. He has struggled this season, but, as I detailed in the first part of this piece, it should be of little concern. Generally, the White Sox have done a fantastic job at developing arms. Putting Owens’ talent and his proximity to the big leagues with the White Sox should bring them some close to immediate returns on his talent.
Proposal: White Sox acquire Xander Bogaerts and Henry Owens for Chris Sale
Trade Partner: Atlanta Braves
The Braves have gone through a bit of a transformation the past few months. Their entire outfield, which was heralded from the day it was put together, has been shipped out across the country. In return, the Braves restocked their farm system and set themselves up with a quality future ahead of them.
Andrelton Simmons has established himself as one of the best gloves in baseball. At 25, he already has multiple Gold Gloves and also nabbed a Platinum Glove in 2013. He provides a massive amount of value with his glove given that he is at shortstop. Simmons has such a great glove that he basically needs to “just hit enough”. What is a bit perplexing about Simmons is that has the tools to be a quality bat. In 2013, Simmons smacked 17 home runs and flashed some of the pop he has in his bat. Is he ever going to be an exceptional home run hitter? Not at all, but hitting 10 to 15 home runs each year is fantastic from the shortstop position. Throughout his career, Simmons has kept a low strikeout rate, though coupled with a low walk rate. Simmons’ career strikeout rate sits at 9%, but this year he’s striking out only 6.5% of the time. In an era where strikeouts have become insanely common place, Simmons is one of the few exceptions with the ability to lead the league each year. Finally, Simmons has been steadily improving his BABIP. In his first full season in 2013, Simmons BABIP’d a paltry .247. That is enough to crush any normal player’s year, but Simmons managed to be a 4.5 win player on his glove and that power he showed. This year, he continued to raise it and is currently at a somewhat solid .284. Coupled with that, Simmons is generating a .308 wOBA and 94 wRC+, both would be career highs over a full season. All in all, Simmons has already displayed himself to be a 4 win shortstop and seems to be a safe bet to do that consistently. If his bat continues to progress, he should be able to generate much more value.
Alex Wood brings your typical #2 or #3 starter with a high 80’s to low 90’s fastball to the table. Wood has been very effective in his time in the majors with a 3.10 career FIP, a 22.4% strikeout rate, and a 6.4% walk rate. All of which are great. Wood does bring a bit of concern this year with his strikeout rate dropping to 17.7%; however, his exceptional command of his pitches makes me less worried in the long run. On the other end, Rio Ruiz is a bat first, third baseman, who should be able to stick there for the foreseeable future. He has struggled a bit in AA this year, but making one of the harder jumps for a prospect and doing so in a new system can excuse him from a bit of that. Still, he is showing his advanced approach at the plate by walking at a 14.7% clip and limiting his strikeouts to under 20%. For the grade on his bat to advance, he has to start hitting again, but that should come in time.
Proposal: White Sox acquire Andrelton Simmons, Rio Ruiz, and Alex Wood for Chris Sale and Alexei Ramirez
Trade Partner: Texas Rangers
The Rangers have certainly deviated from their Impression of M.A.S.H. last season. Though their pitching staff is still dealing with injuries, the organization has placed itself nicely to compete both now and in the future. With this being a smaller market team and them having a good amount of long-term cash locked in, they would be, in theory, a perfect candidate for a Sale trade. The Rangers lack the young star power at the big league level that the two previous offers have. However, the Rangers have a few very high quality prospects and major league players to get the deal done.
Two of the Rangers prospects stand out in this deal. The first and most obvious addition to this trade is Joey Gallo, who just finished his first cup of coffee in the bigs. Gallo has 80 grade power, plain and simple. His power tool is what makes him special and you can couple that with his ability to play third, his fantastic arm, and his production in the minor leagues. He does have rather large concerns around strikeouts and contact. These concerns and his skill set effectively make him a boom or bust player. If he hits though, he is unquestionably one of the best players in the league in the vein of Giancarlo Stanton. The other big name is a guy I love in Nomar Mazara. Mazara is a 20-year-old international signee from 2011. He has moved through the minors quickly, even skipping High-A last season. Mazara is a bat first outfielder who does not provide a ton outside of it. His bat projects to be incredibly impactful with a high-grade on power and the potential to have the same with his hit tool. Mazara has a very good chance to reach the majors at a young age and become one of the better hitters in the league.
The other two pieces in this deal are significant additions. Jake Thompson fits into the mold of a pitcher the White Sox could maximize in their development system. Thompson has some questions on whether he could start in the bigs, but has been consistently dispelling them on his run through the minors with the Rangers. Thompson has superior stuff, but continues to work on developing consistent command of his pitches, like many minor league pitchers. Along with Thompson, Rougned Odor brings along an established, young presence to the second base spot. He projects to be an average to above average second baseman with some more upside given that he is still only 21. Odor has struggled with BABIP this season, currently sitting at a .267 mark. One would assume that he will ascend toward the mean and begin to hit a bit better. He has also shown more patience at the plate this season with a 7.7% walk rate compared to 4.1% last season and a rate that floated around 5 to 6% in the minor leagues. Odor should provide a nice, immediate input into the White Sox lineup that could grow and become a significant piece.
Proposal: White Sox acquire Joey Gallo, Nomar Mazara, Jake Thompson, and Rougned Odor for Chris Sale and Alexei Ramirez