Should the White Sox Trade Chris Sale?

With the White Sox an obvious seller before the trade deadline, the team and fan base seem committed to improving the future of the organization by parting with the majority of its veteran players.  Rick Hahn made it known a few weeks back that just about everyone was available for the right price. 

But does that include 2013 All Star and Sox ace Chris Sale? 

Ken Rosenthal wrote something yesterday that he believes the White Sox should try and trade their 24-year-old ace before the deadline due to the thin crop of starting pitchers on the trade market.  His logic is that the White Sox need to do a full rebuild and are years away from contending, and Sale would fetch a pretty price in this thin trade market.  He believes that given Sale’s age and contract situation, some desperate team might be willing to sell the farm, so to speak, in order to acquire the young ace. 

While I understand the point Rosenthal is trying to make, I think this idea is way off base. 

Sale’s age (24) and contract situation are exactly the reason that the White Sox should hang onto him as a piece to build the team around.  There aren’t that many young, legit aces floating around, and Sale clearly appears to be one of them.  His numbers in his first year and a half as a starting pitcher have been phenomenal. 

Now, the argument could be made that if the Sox are 2-3 years away from contending that he will just be wasted with them, but I don’t agree with that at all. Sale will still be just 27 or 28 years old in 2-3 years and will be in the prime of his career.  The White Sox have him under contract through at least 2017 with options for 2018 and 2019.  He is set to earn $18.65 million total over the next three seasons, hardly a bank breaker for the team.  In 2017, his salary bumps up to $12M, with the two option years at $12.5 and $13.5 million. 

While that is getting a little pricier, remember that he will not be 30 years old until the final option year of his contract, and that Cliff Lee, Johan Santana, CC Sabathia, Tim Lincecum, Zack Grienke, Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Justin Verlander, Roy Halladay and Barry Zito are all making at least $20 million this year.  Suddenly $12 million seems like a bargain for one of the top pitchers in the game.

From a talent standpoint, the move doesn’t seem to make much sense either, as the Sox have other pieces that can fetch value on the trade market.  The Sox are obviously in need of help with hitting/positional players, and most Sox fans are aware that the farm system is pretty bare when it comes to this area.  They may be looking for as many as seven new starting position players over the next year or so, and replacing that many spots isn’t easy.

However, the Sox are said to be looking for major league ready or near-ready talent in return for their current veterans.  Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, Jesse Crain, Matt Thornton and Matt Lindstrom are all available and likely to be dealt.  In addition to that, Jake Peavy and Adam Dunn are possible trade candidates this year and certainly next year.  A healthy Peavy would be the best starting pitcher available and should bring a nice return, regardless of if he is dealt before July 31st this year, in the off-season, or before the deadline next year.  Adam Dunn is in a similar boat., and if he continues to hit like he has the last six weeks, someone will bite on him.  The point is the Sox have a lot of attractive, available pieces to deal that should bring back talent that can help the club in the near future.

With all those players being shopped, why bother shopping your best young player and the most likely centerpiece of the organization going forward?  It just doesn’t make sense to me. 

The package that a team would have to put together for the Sox and their fans to be fine with trading Sale would have to be massive.  You are talking about one or two legit MLB stars or budding stars, and probably a couple more of a team’s top prospects.  I just don’t see a contending team that could put together a viable package to acquire Sale that wouldn’t also hurt its chances this year and in the near future.  Not to mention that trading a young, proven, top of the rotation pitcher for unproven talent is a very scary thought.  Look at the deals the Indians made when they traded Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia if you want an example of how badly that can blow up in your face. 

The White Sox have some decent pitching in place for the future.  Chris Sale, Hector Santiago, Jose Quintana and John Danks could all be around for at least the next three years.  Addison Reed and Nate Jones are nice, young bullpen pieces.  Erik Johnson is progressing quickly through the minors and could be a part of the Sox rotation as early as next season.  The Sox should build around this pitching and look to acquire some bats to go along with it.  If they can pick up a few everyday starters in trades this year and next, get a couple high draft picks, and sign a free agent or two, they could be back in contention in a couple of years. 

Obviously, that’s easier said than done, but the blueprint is there and other teams have done it.

Trading Chris Sale may be thought of as “looking outside the box,” but to me it would just be a case of trying to be the smartest guy in the room, and that often blows up in your face.  Build the team around pitching and fill in the holes on offense as you go with a mix of youngsters and vets and you can be a contender.