NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The baseball world has come to suburban DC for the winter meetings. In a hotel just steps away from the Potomac River, the White Sox are holding onto the biggest fish available.
But trading their ace Chris Sale might be tougher than it seems because of the White Sox steep asking price. Will any team meet their demands? That’s the question.
"You have to have four prospects who can’t possibly miss to get one," White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf told CSN. "I’ve seen so many players over the years who were going to be phenoms, they were going to be future Hall of Famers, and we don’t even remember what their names are anymore. That’s why when you’re trading a player of stature you’ve got to get multiple can’t-miss prospects back. That’s why it makes it tough to trade a player of great stature."
With the meetings in their hometown this year, the Washington Nationals could make quite the splash by acquiring Sale, which would give them a dominating 1-2 punch with Sale and Max Scherzer, not to mention Stephen Strasburg. The Nationals have the pieces to pull off such a deal, but they’ve reportedly been unwilling to trade their top prospect, Trea Turner, a 23-year-old who slashed .342/.370/.567 in 307 at-bats after getting called up last season. He can play second base, shortstop and center field. Oh, and he also stole 33 bases.
But Sale is no slouch himself. He’s finished in the top six in AL Cy Young voting in each of the last five seasons. And then there's his salary. He’s owed $12 million for 2017, with club options for each of the following two seasons at $12.5 million and $13.5 million. That’s three years for $38 million. Compare that with top free-agent pitcher Rich Hill, who is 10 years older than Sale and reportedly got a three-year, $48 million contract when he signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday. This is one of the weakest free-agent classes for starting pitchers we’ve ever seen.
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On the surface, the White Sox hold all the cards. But so far teams are holding onto their top prospects like gold and have been unwilling to deal them even for one of the best pitchers in the game.
Knowing what Sale has meant to the franchise, Reinsdorf admitted "it will be very hard to trade him."
For it to happen, the White Sox don’t sound like they are willing to put Sale in the clearance section.
"We’d have to really feel we were coming back with a lot of goods, a lot of merchandise," Reinsdorf said.
But for the first time, the White Sox are open to trading Sale, an idea few could fathom a year ago.
"I’ve said it many, many times, I’ve only had one player that couldn’t be traded (Michael Jordan), and the only reason he couldn’t be traded was that I would have been shot dead the day after,” Reinsdorf said. “We love our players, and we want our players when their careers are over to say that 'the best place I played was with the White Sox.' But again our obligation is to the fans to make our teams as good as we can make them, and we have to look at the players basically as assets and if we can make a team better by trading somebody no matter how much we love the guy, we have to go ahead and do it.
"Having said that, I don’t know what’s going to happen here."
NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Seems like every hour another juicy rumor surfaces in which the White Sox are considering the unthinkable: a trade for five-time All-Star Chris Sale.
With baseball’s Winter Meetings starting on Monday, those reports have begun to arrive at a furious pace. Team A has shown interest in Sale and plans to make a push at the four-day conference. Team B doesn’t think it can meet the White Sox reported asking price. Teams C and D have made their top prospects untouchable in a potential deal for Sale.
While the White Sox won’t reveal their direction until they make their first few major moves, the tone of most reports has made it clear they’re at least entertaining a trade for Sale, who has finished in the top six in the American League Cy Young Award vote in each of his five seasons as a starting pitcher.
In the past, trading Sale has been an afterthought as the White Sox have envisioned the lanky left-hander leading them back to the postseason. But those days appear to be numbered. To understand how they’ve reached this point, where Rick Hahn isn’t just humoring his fellow general managers by picking up the phone but is actively listening on Sale, you only need to look at the White Sox roster over the past five seasons.
While the White Sox have an extremely competitive top half of the roster, one that could seemingly compete on an annual basis in the AL Central, much of the rest has been comprised of what Hahn himself referred to as “stop-gaps” and “half measures.” Since the start of the 2012 season, more than 30 players who have appeared for the White Sox made their final major league appearances on the South Side. Several others made brief stopovers but have spent the rest of their time in the minors, another country or retired. Were they to begin a rebuild and bolster the farm system, Hahn and executive vice president Kenny Williams could better position themselves to avoid the use of short-term players and quick fixes to supplement the roster for a team that hasn’t reached the postseason since 2008.
“I think we’re veering away from the standpoint of looking for stopgaps,” Hahn said last month at the GM meetings in Phoenix. “A lot of what we did in the last few years had been trying to enhance the short-term potential of the club to put ourselves in a position to win immediately. I feel the approach at this point is focusing on longer-term benefits. It doesn’t mean we won’t necessarily be in a good position in 2017. It means that our targets and whatever we’re hoping to accomplish have a little more longer term fits in nature.”
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Whereas they were taking a step back in 2014, the White Sox at least went into four of the last five seasons with hopes of reaching the postseason.
But those aspirations were dashed in part because of a thin farm system. Whether depleted by an international program that was dormant for five seasons, trades of prospects to fill holes or previous draft misses, the White Sox have had few internal answers to cover for injuries or underperformance. That lack of depth has led to a number of short-term signings or bargain trades in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle.
Last season, the White Sox signed Jimmy Rollins, Mat Latos and Austin Jackson in February and March in hopes of providing depth at shortstop, in the rotation and in center field. Those moves are typical of the way the club has hoped to plug holes the past few years.
Rollins and Latos were released in June while Jackson suffered a season-ending injury. Jackson is a hopeful free agent this offseason and should find a home, but Rollins didn’t find a new team after the White Sox released him and Latos made six appearances with Washington, compiling a 6.52 ERA.
From the 2015 roster, Adam LaRoche retired and Mike Olt and Hector Noesi haven’t resurfaced in the majors since departing the White Sox. Kyle Drabek appeared in one game for Arizona before he was released last July.
One-time 2014 closer Ronald Belisario played six games for Tampa Bay in 2015 and sat out last season. Moises Sierra has spent time in the minors with Kansas City and Miami. Adrian Nieto played 37 games with Miami’s Triple-A squad in 2016, Felipe Paulino and Dayan Viciedo finished the season in Japan, Maikel Cleto split the year between Mexico and Atlanta’s farm system and Frank Francisco hasn’t played since winter ball in 2015.
Michael Taylor and Matt Lindstrom retired, Jordan Danks didn’t play in 2016 and Taylor Thompson, Scott Snodgress and Charlie Leesman all played independent ball.
Jeff Keppinger hasn’t returned to the big leagues since he was released in early 2014. The same goes for Hector Gimenez, Dewayne Wise, Tyler Greene, Blake Tekotte, Ramon Troncoso, David Purcey, Brian Omogrosso and Deunte Heath from the 2013 club.
Casper Wells briefly played with Philadelphia after he was waived in 2013 while Kevin Youkilis only played 28 games that season, a year after the White Sox acquired him on the cheap from Boston. Orlando Hudson, Kosuke Fukudome, Ray Olmedo, Jose Lopez, Will Ohman, Brian Bruney and Leyson Septimo never appeared in the majors after 2012.
Starting with Hahn’s declaration in July that the White Sox were mired in mediocrity, the club has made its frustrations very clear. Whereas the Sale rumors once seemed far-fetched, they might not be this time as the White Sox look to replenish an organization short on talent past the very top portion.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we’ve had our conversations internally with Jerry and Kenny and the coaches and our staff and our scouts where we realize putting ourselves in a better position for the long term is the more prudent path,” Hahn said.