4 Realistic Landing Spots for Chris Sale
Chicago White Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale is technically under team control through the 2019 season for a total of just $38 million, but it seems doubtful he’ll be in Chi-town much longer. With a rather uninspiring free agent market for starting pitchers -- which is getting more uninspiring by the day -- teams are on the hunt for top-tier and affordable starting pitchers via trade.
General manager Rick Hahn toyed with dealing Sale prior to the non-waiver trade deadline last summer, but he ultimately decided against it. Following another lackluster season, the White Sox are now open to trading players with less than four years of team control in an effort to rebuild.
Sale fits that description.
Since the asking price is supposedly ridiculous, Chicago could jump start a rebuild with the prospect haul they’d receive from an interested team willing to pay the price. Baseball's Winter Meetings will take place from December 4th to December 8th, and Sale will likely be a focal point of trade rumors.
With that in mind, here are four teams who would be an ideal fit for the southpaw.
Technically, the Washington Nationals don’t need to add Sale to their starting rotation -- which is why we should keep an eye on them.
Anchored by 2016 National League Cy Young award winner Max Scherzer and fellow starters Stephen Strasburg and Tanner Roark, Washington’s rotation finished second in baseball last year with an 18.2 fWAR, per Fangraphs. They also finished second in ERA (3.60), second in FIP (3.61) and fourth in xFIP (3.81), so they’re already really good.
However, Gio Gonzalez is not only the lone southpaw in the rotation, but he is also the weakest link (4.57 ERA, 3.80 xFIP in 177 1/3 innings). Given the free agent market, the Nats could flip Gonzalez in a trade for another area of need (a closer or some more offense) to make room for Sale in the rotation.
It’s the kind of move Washington General Manager Mike Rizzo would definitely do, and Washington has a strong enough farm system to pull it off.
The Texas Rangers compiled a 95-67 record in 2016, which was tops in the American League. That’s impressive, but it’s even more impressive (and shocking) when considering they had a run differential of -4.
They were so good during the regular season because of a unsustainable 36-11 record in one-run games. Unfortunately, the Toronto Blue Jays whipped them in the first-round of the playoffs, and we all saw that outside of Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish, there wasn’t much to get excited about in the rotation, which produced the third-worst fWAR in baseball last year (7.9).
Rangers General Manager Jon Daniels wanted to bolster the rotation last summer, but Texas came away empty handed. After getting swept out of the postseason, he may be thinking otherwise. Sale’s 5.2 fWAR from 2016 nearly outperformed the entire Rangers rotation, and he’d create quite a three-headed monster with Hamels and Darvish. He’d also provide protection for the future since Darvish is set to be a free agent following 2017.
Does Texas have the prospect power to make a deal? Jurickson Profar and Joey Gallo are still in the organization and neither has a clear path to regular playing time on the big-league level, so the answer to that is yes.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Whenever a top player becomes available, whether it’s via trade or free agency, it seems as though the Los Angeles Dodgers are interested.
Their rotation actually performed quite well in 2016, posting the best xFIP (3.69) and fourth-best fWAR (16.4) in baseball, but literally everyone got hurt except for rookie Kenta Maeda. He was the only one to start at least 30 games for Los Angeles, and one of three to take the hill at least 20 times (Clayton Kershaw and Scott Kazmir are the other two).
The Dodgers don’t lack for options in the rotation, but maybe not ones with which the front office feels comfortable. After all, the only hurlers listed on their official website in the rotation are Kershaw, Maeda and Julio Urias.
Non-waiver trade deadline acquisition Rich Hill has also hit free agency, so the Dodgers were already in need of another starter. Although their reported debt won’t hinder offseason spending, the organization will still be trimming payroll while trying to contend for a World Series.
With a rich farm system and the ability to extend Sale when the time comes, swinging this kind of deal makes a ton of sense for the Dodgers on multiple fronts.
New York Yankees
New York Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman has already said the Yankees weren’t seriously interested in Sale because they’re not a team that’s one piece away from getting over the hump and winning a World Series. This is true, but the southpaw would provide stability to what’s been a generally unstable rotation -- both now and into the future.
Masahiro Tanaka is the ace, but he can opt out of his contract following the 2017 season. CC Sabathia did bounce back last year, but he’s in the last year of his deal. Michael Pineda is talented and led the American League in SIERA, but 2016 was his first season passing the 170-innings mark since 2011. Youngsters Chad Green and Bryan Mitchell, according to Roster Resource, currently occupy the final two spots.
Not exactly a group that instills confidence, especially since they ranked in the middle or bottom half of the league in most advanced statistics.
New York is technically rebuilding, but they’re the Yankees. The organization is trying to balance bolstering its farm system while remaining competitive. The price to acquire Sale is steep, but after a summer of selling, the Bronx Bombers now have the prospects to make it happen. Landing Sale would also gives them security for the future at an affordable price, which is something the new Steinbrenner regime can get behind.