Chris Sale has been in the news a lot lately. Six days ago, he was suspended for five games because a clubhouse incident in which he cut up throwback jerseys in protest, claiming that even though he told the front office he wanted to wear normal jerseys for his start, they ultimately refused.
Afterward, trade rumors began to swirl. We all know about the Drake LaRoche situation where Sale also complained to the higher-ups about meddling in the clubhouse, so Sale making his opinion known is no surprise. What is a surprise, though, is that the White Sox are even considering parting ways with their best franchise player since Frank Thomas.
If you’re a team that’s in the market for starting pitching (that’s just about anyone), your mouth should be salivating. Sale is easily one of the best pitchers in the game today, and we are entering territory we rarely enter: a generational talent is available, for the right price.
Here’s how good Sale has been: since his first year starting in 2012, only five starters in baseball have a lower ERA- (73)—Jacob deGrom, Zack Grienke, Johnny Cueto, Jose Fernandez, and Clayton Kershaw. And keep in mind, Sale has more than double the innings of both Fernandez and deGrom. He also has the ninth-highest swinging-strike percentage, the third-most win probability added, and the sixth-highest strikeout rate. There’s just no way to talk about the best pitchers in baseball without mentioning Sale.
In a recent post from Jon Heyman, he lists the teams most likely to trade for Sale, however unlikely that is to begin with: the Rangers, Dodgers, Red Sox, Yankees, Nationals, Braves, Astros, and Diamondbacks—in that order. On the Yankees, he says:
“With a shortstop glut (they have Jorge Mateo in addition to Torres), a well-regarded young pitcher (Luis Severino, who was just promoted), young hitters (Greg Bird, Aaron Judge) and even a catching prospect (Gary Sanchez) the Yankees are one of a few teams that could potentially come close to or meet the Sox’s asking price of five top young players and prospects.”
That’s the asking price. You can propose all of the scenarios you want, but there’s no getting around the fact that acquiring Sale would mean shipping out almost every young talent the Yankees have. The White Sox already turned down a supposed “king’s ransom”. Nonetheless, it would be worth it.
I have talked a bit about how the Yankees should focus on the future at this trade deadline, and they have done that to an extent with the Aroldis Chapman deal. It may seem counter-intuitive to gut your farm system to get one player, but hear me out.
Let’s think about this: what are the odds that even one of the above players becomes as good as Sale? What are the odds all of the players combined produces as much as Sale over the course of three and a half years? Considering he has been a top-five pitcher/top-ten player in baseball for five years running, I’m going to say the former is slim, and the latter is probably a good possibility, but distributed over the course of many, many seasons.
There is more than one use for a good farm system. Of course the ideal is to develop all of them and create multiple cost-effective stars, but the odds are that only one or two will have extensive and/or productive careers. That’s just how prospects are. But when you’re the Yankees, and you have a good farm system and a massive amount of money, you take advantage of that financial leverage by using your farm system to acquire big stars, and filling the gaps with free agency. Granted, free agency isn’t the brightest the next couple of years, but you get the idea. The Yankees don’t rely on the farm system like the Royals do, for example.
With a Sale in the rotation, you now have a legitimate star to build around. You still have all your international amateurs budding, and you still have all that money. To heck with prospects, with building for the future that many never come; if a young and cheap star is available, you go after the star. He may have some anger issues, and that’s obviously something to consider makeup-wise. But if the Yankees want to emerge from the post-dynasty years with a fresh look and a new, young ace, Chris Sale isn’t a bad choice.