Why Everybody Wants Chris Sale This Offseason

The free agent starting pitching market is weak, so arm-hunters are looking to deal for one.

This year's crop of free agents isn't without some quality baseball players who could help another team.

There is a quality youngish center fielder in Yoenis Cespedes, aging-but-still-excellent sluggers in Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista, two of the game's best closers, Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen, and not to mention last year's American League home run champ, Mark Trumbo.

So yeah, there's some help out there. But for teams looking for something a little different, there are some options on the trade market as well.

Sure, you've got to give up some minor league talent to get them, but the price in dollars and years is likely less, and you're probably getting a player for their prime years, not their declining seasons.

Or, if you're talking about a starting pitching market headlined by the aging and oft-injured Rich Hill, it is the only place to pick up an impact starting pitcher.

The most impactful arm on the market is the Chicago White Sox's outstanding lefty Chris Sale. And Chicago is ready and willing to at least listen on their ace left-hander.

Sale Brilliant Once Again

Sale is a five-time All Star entering his age-28 season next year. He was once again phenomenal in 2016, going 17-10 in 32 starts, totaling 226 2/3 innings (a career-high), a 3.34 ERA, and a 3.46 FIP. He struck out 9.25 batters per nine innings and walked 1.79 per nine. He allowed hitters to bat just .225 against him, right in line with his career average.

Sale finished fifth in the AL Cy Young voting and was worth 4.9 rWAR last season,

His strikeout totals were down a bit from 2015, 274 to 233, but that was done consciously as he aimed to induce more contact and go deeper in his starts. It seemed to work, too, throwing 18 more innings this year, with an ERA that was actually a bit lower than in 2015 (3.41 compared to 3.34).

Sale did struggle a bit in July (4.85 ERA) and September (4.39 ERA), but his overall first half and second half numbers were pretty much the same. He's as reliable as it gets, and virtually every team has checked in on his availability.

Why Now?

Simply put, when a 36-year-old pitcher with a history of blisters and other injury woes is the top option on the free agent market, there is a vacuum that needs filling. And in Sale, the White House should be ready to Hoover the entire market.

The White Sox have some decent players on their roster. Jose Abreu, Adam Eaton, Todd Frazier and Tim Anderson are decent position players, and a rotation with Sale and Jose Quintana is a nice start. But it's a team loaded with veterans and not a lot of youth that went 78-84 last season and plays in a division with the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals. It's time to re-tool.

If Chicago decides to sell, they could see a return much like the one the Philadelphia Phillies got for Cole Hamels two years ago. The White Sox should get back four or five very good-to-elite prospects back for Sale, with some of them close to Major League-ready. It's likely a Sale return would jump start the team faster than hanging onto him would.

Which Teams Are Candidates?

Any team that wants to deal for Sale has to have a very good-to-excellent farm system because -- not only is he an excellent starting pitcher -- he is also team-controlled through 2019 and is slated to make $12 million in 2017, $12.5 million in '18 and just $13.5 million in '19, when he will only be 30 years old.

You will not find a better financial deal than Chris Sale over the next three years.

So, which teams are in the running? The Atlanta Braves have reportedly made contact about a potential deal as they look to jumpstart their rotation next season.

The Los Angeles Dodgers have the need and the prospects to make a deal work, as do the Boston Red Sox, Washington Nationals, New York Yankees and Houston Astros.

In this bleak free-agent market for starting pitchers, Sale could be the top prize.