Analysis

White Sox: Assessing the Chris Sale Trade, One Year Later

One year ago today, Rick Hahn initiated the White Sox’ rebuild in explosive fashion, by trading away Chris Sale. After months of speculation, rumors, and competition, the Red Sox finally offered a return Hahn couldn’t refuse. In exchange for Sale, Boston general manager Dave Dombrowski forked over No. 1 prospect Yoan Moncada, No. 30 prospect Michael Kopech, and two other talented prospects.

At the time, it seemed too crazy to believe. After years of mediocrity or worse, Jerry Reinsdorf had finally affirmed a total rebuild. Today, several major trades later, the Sox are in excellent shape for the future. As hoped, the majority of their acquired prospects have performed well in the minors.

But let’s go back to the trade that started it all. The Boston Blockbuster. The Sale Sayonara. The Moncada Miracle. Whatever you call it, there’s no denying that a lot has changed for the five players involved in the deal. How has the deal panned out for the pair of Sox’s?

The loss: Chris Sale

The first clear favorite in the Sale sweepstakes emerged on December 5, 2016: the Washington Nationals. Numerous reports placed the Nats as having made significant progress in Sale talks. Yet just a day later, Dombrowski swooped in, sensing the danger.

After being swept in the 2016 AL Division Series, Dombrowski was determined to revamp the Red Sox in time for 2017. Despite Rick Porcello somehow earning a Cy Young, and David Price having another great year, their pitching staff was too weak to go the distance in October, especially with Price’s playoff jitters. Sale seemingly fixed that issue.

Pan over to the White Sox, and the loss of Sale left a void that can’t be filled. Yes, the Sox sport a handful of potential aces in their system, but they’re all right-handed prospects. Chicago will have to go through the rebuild with the next best thing, an almost-Sale, in Carlos Rodon. Plus, both the prospects and the oft-injured Rodon carry an uncertainty with them Sale clearly did not possess.

At the same time, though, the hole left by Sale has benefited the South Siders tremendously. Without Sale, tanking went smoothly in 2017, and now the White Sox own the fourth overall selection in June’s MLB Amateur Draft.

Let’s check in on Boston. One year later, they haven’t gotten any closer to winning a championship. In fact, they dropped out again in the ALDS, and so the acquisition of Sale, to date, hasn’t panned out for the Red Sox. Key phrase: to date.

Sale was still amazing in 2017 despite his team’s failure. Posting a magnificent 2.90 ERA alongside career-bests 2.45 FIP, 0.97 WHIP, 12.93 K/9, and 7.7 WAR, Sale provided a ton of value to the Red Sox. Though it didn’t mean much in the end, it’s illogical to claim Chicago has already won the trade, as Sale has at least two more years to lead Boston to a championship.

The return: Moncada and more

If you’re going to give up Chris Sale, you better receive some pretty amazing compensation. Hahn did just that.

Moncada

For his entire period as a White Sox prospect, Moncada remained at the top of MLB Pipeline’s prospect list, for good reason. With Class Triple-A Charlotte, Moncada batted .282/.377/.447 wRC+ in 80 games and 341 PAs. Though his slugging percentage did fall off noticeably from his 2016 days in the Red Sox system, that was to be expected while adjusting to Triple-A pitching with the Knights. Overall, the 22 year-old played great in his final minor league stint.

Called up in July, Moncada struggled during his first two weeks in the bigs, before regaining his footing at the plate. Post-July, the Cuban phenom played solidly with Chicago, and is primed for a big second year in 2018. For a full evaluation of Moncada’s 2017 campaign, click here.

Basabe/Diaz

Initially, part of the hype surrounding the deal involved the potential of these two farmhands. Fans had especially high hopes for Basabe, many placing him as a top-150 prospect. However, Basabe played very poorly, managing a minuscule .640 OPS in 107 games with Class A Advanced Winston-Salem. He did have somewhat respectable numbers in July and August, but it’s clear he is far from the majors at this point.

Diaz, meanwhile, floundered in his limited number of 2017 appearances, with a 14.25 ERA in just 12.0 IP. At this point, he is a total afterthought from the Sale deal.

Kopech

A huge requirement for a Chris Sale return was a high-quality second piece. Rick Hahn got that in Kopech, and the right-handed fireballer is turning out to be even better than expected.

Acquired as baseball’s No. 30 prospect according to Pipeline, Kopech has risen to No. 9 one year later. After a decent start to the year, Kopech really kicked it into high gear later in the season, as July and August were by far his best months in the minors, even earning his way to Charlotte in mid-August.

Kopech finished 2017 with an overall 2.88 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and a whopping 172 Ks in 134.1 IP. He excelled at limiting home runs, allowing just six, and did so even better with the Knights, where he posted a sparkling 2.07 FIP. Overall, the strikeout machine made great strides in 2017, and should be called up at some point in 2018. For a full examination Kopech’s 2017 season, click here.

The verdict: Who won the trade?

Again, it’s impossible to make a conclusion at this point in time. In 2019, when Sale’s contract runs out with Boston, can we? Absolutely. Now however, we can just make a guess. So, who do I project will win the trade? I believe it’s the White Sox.

Boston and Sale will have an awful tough time defeating MLB’s best teams the next two years. In contrast, Chicago has a much longer window, arriving as Boston’s “Sale window” ends. Furthermore, chances are very high that the Sox will get at least one good player + one star player from the deal, if not better, while Boston retains just one star player. Also, don’t forget to tack on Chicago’s fourth pick in 2018 made possible in part by losing Sale.

There is still time for the rebuild to fail, or for Boston to win a championship on the back of Sale, or both. But at this point in time, Sox fans can rest assured—the trade they cheered exactly one year ago is panning out wonderfully.

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