Superstar White Sox left-hander Chris Sale is on the block, and it appears at least five teams are starting to separate themselves at the forefront of talks: the Nationals, Astros, Red Sox, Rangers and Braves.
That doesn’t mean that any one of these teams is sure to get him, or even that Sale will definitely be traded. In fact, an executive with one of those teams suggests he doesn’t believe Sale is going anywhere. “The asking price is so high it’s hard to imagine he’s getting traded,” says that exec.
Of course, there’s always a lot of posturing early in the winter, and Sale’s been on the block for a very long time for a player of this caliber. Also: the price tag should be very high. Sale has been in the top six in Cy Young voting the last half-dozen years and is generally considered one of the best handful of pitchers in baseball, if not the best in the American League. He also has just $38 million to go over three years, which is probably a $70-million savings, based on current prices.
And that’s if you can find a pitcher like him out there. And you can’t, at least not on the free-agent market, which is currently headlined by Rich Hill, a 36-year-old former journeyman who stepped to the front of a rotation for the first time last year, plus a few middle-of-the-road types who will never be confused for Sale (Jason Hammel is probably the best of those.)
Here’s a look at the alleged leaders in the Sale derby …
There’s no question they are in, and GM Mike Rizzo has been willing to go the extra mile for players he wants (see Max Scherzer). Word is, the Nats are balking at Trea Turner. “He’s too valuable to us,” says one Nats-connected person. Based on how he played the last two months of last year, that’s not unexpected at all. But can the Nats do a deal without Turner? They have two talented young pitchers on the cusp of the majors in Lucas Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, a young catcher in Pedro Severino and an outfield prospect in Victor Robles. Not bad, but not sure that’s enough. They are also trying to land center fielder Andrew McCutchen, with some of those same players being bandied about. And it’s hard to see how they could get both.
The Astros have a fantastic everyday team now, but a noticeably weak rotation that’s short of hard throwers or experience. They do seem to be in an aggressive mode, with another attempt for Yoenis Cespedes. And the reality is, they need pitching more, much more. With Sale, they look like contenders, and maybe even the class of the AL West. Without him, they may not do much better than last year. Their system is down a bit, but if they’d give up Alex Bregman, they’d probably be in business. One rival brushes that off, saying, “The Astros are not trading Bregman, no way.” We’ll see.
The Braves have made their love for Sale well know. They are well-stocked with pitching in the minors, but word is the White Sox prefer players closer to the big leagues, if not already in them. By far the Braves’ most valuable young piece is shortstop Dansby Swanson, but he’s a local kid who they’re building around. While the Braves would be a geographic plus for Sale (who lives in Naples, Fla, which may be where the Braves wind up training, or near it) one Sale friend wondered if the team is close enough to contention to make such a move now for a player with only three years to go on his contract.
Boston is definitely in there pitching, and it should be, though the Red Sox have flown under the radar for once. Red Sox people said their efforts at the deadline were way overplayed, and that may be the case. But while they’ve said the rotation isn’t their current priority, they certainly could use Sale. And there’s no doubt they have the young players to get it done. It was reported here, and elsewhere, that Jackie Bradley was among the pieces the White Sox sought last July, and while giving him up would hurt, Boston could slide Mookie Betts over to center field if need be. They also have two of the more talented young players in the game, in Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada, plus some young pitching pieces such as Eduardo Rodriguez who could round out a package. In play.
Texas is known for making bold trades (see Cole Hamels), and like most others, could use some rotation reinforcement even if it already looks pretty good at the top, with Yu Darvish and Hamels. They also have great prospects, starting with Joey Gallo, whose time may be at hand finally, and Jurickson Profar, who looks to be back on the rise after a couple injury years.
Word lately is that they don’t want to give up their top young talent, and that really is nothing new, as they have wisely held onto Corey Seager (the NL Rookie of the Year) and Julio Urias through years of requests. The White Sox are said to like Cody Bellinger, an outstanding defensive first baseman who might be able to play the outfield, and can hit, and some others. But to this point, the Dodgers haven’t shown the inclination to go big in these talks. They also are focused on trying to re-sign Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Rich Hill (or finding replacements for Jansen or Hill). You also have to wonder whether the debt concern raised in a Los Angeles Times piece might hamper them, as well (they’ve denied that it will). Not that Sale’s preference would necessarily affect anyone, but word is that the Floridian Sale would prefer not to go to the West Coast.
The Yankees did talk to the ChiSox last July, but with a new emphasis on youth plus no interest at all in trading star young catcher Gary Sanchez, it seems Sale has been off their radar. The Cubs have the pieces, but as one rival GM said, “no way they send Sale to the North Side.” (Though the White Sox deny that is a factor.) The Cardinals, Blue Jays and Giants look to be on the periphery, but perhaps at least Toronto and San Francisco may not have the pieces. SF also doesn’t have the need as much as some others, either.
Around the Majors …
— McCutchen does seem likely to be dealt, and the Nats and others are talking to Pittsburgh, which has payroll limits and may want to make a deal while McCutchen still has two years left (one guaranteed and an option likely to be picked up). It’s hard to know why McCutchen had such a rough year in 2016, and it isn’t known whether the contract is in his mind, but people connected to the team say he regrets signing it.
— The Yankees, Astros and Jays are thought to be among the teams in on Edwin Encarnacion, though reports of a deal in Houston were premature. Agent Paul Kinzer told me he and Encarnacion were in the D.R. at the time reports were suggesting they were in Houston. The Astros do seem to be aggressive, though Astros connected people were shooting down these reports, too. Kinzer mentioned there were “a couple other teams” involved, as well.
— The Astros apparently did go for Cespedes this winter, and that would make it the second straight year they made an attempt for Cespedes. Their efforts last year flew entirely under the radar.
— The Cardinals, Giants and Jays are thought among teams interested in Dexter Fowler, whose big on-base year has put him in much better position this year. Some teams have come away with an impression Fowler’s camp thinks he can get $18 million a year, and while that would seem a tad high, it may not be out of the question.
— One rival GM said he believes J.D. Martinez is “all but certain” to be traded based on their talks. The Tigers do seem intent on getting below the luxury-tax threshold, which will now be $195 million. They finished at $216 million last year, and with the Dodgers free agents and Yankees trade of Brian McCann, Detroit is currently the surprise payroll leader.
— One Tigers connected person put the chances to trade Justin Verlander at around 25 percent and Miguel Cabrera at around 5 percent. Danny Knobler of Bleacher Report has more on that subject, which is complicated by no-trade powers of the star players.
— The Mets would prefer to trade Jay Bruce among their outfielders rather than Curtis Granderson. They have made none of their lefty-hitting outfielders absolutely untouchable, though Michael Conforto appears to be close to that.
— The Orioles are more interested in Granderson than Bruce, and the general feeling is that Granderson has more value off his big finish last year. The Jays also like Granderson.
— The Nats seem to feel Aroldis Chapman will be too much money and seem to be focusing on bringing back Mark Melancon, who they loved on the mound and in the clubhouse.
— The Mets will also seek to add relievers, including at least two lefties (they like their own free agent Jerry Blevins). They may look at catching help, too, though they are hopeful new third base coach Glenn Sherlock, who will coach catchers, can aid with the improvement of their young duo, including starter Travis d’Arnaud, who struggled last year.
— The Yankees are talking to teams about Chase Headley and Brett Gardner, but word is, the interest is relatively mild.
— While it came out that the Rockies have interest in extending Carlos Gonzalez, there has yet to be an official offer. This may be because the suggestions were deemed too low to allow an official offer. In any case, with a year to go before free agency, CarGo looks like an early July trade candidate.
— The Rockies have shown some interest in bringing back Mark Reynolds, who did a decent job for them last year and is a good fit for the thin air.
— People have made offers to buy the Marlins from Jeffrey Loria, and they have come more frequently since the tragic boating death of superstar pitcher Jose Fernandez. Loria has rejected the offers, and doesn’t seem to be in the frame of mind to rush into a quick decision. He is said to be distraught about Fernandez, though, as the two were very close.
— A few thoughts on the new CBA. Good job by the union focusing on the compensation for free agents with qualifying offers, which has been a problem over this cycle. The compensation will be a lot less onerous this time around, some say 75 percent less onerous. So fewer deserving free agents will wind up getting stuck without homes.
— That said, MLB’s offer to do away with compensation altogether for free agents and tying it to an international draft wasn’t a bad one at all. As it turns out, for whatever reason, the union couldn’t take the idea of an international draft (though it would have been as fair as the U.S. draft) and instead took a tough cap of between $4.75 million and $5.7 million for teams signing players from those Latin countries involved (Cuba, Venezuela, the D.R. and Panama). That’s a big letdown from the days of the $30-million signings for Alex Guerrero and Yoan Moncada and the others.
— The luxury tax increase to $195 million in 2017 and eventually to $210 million in 2021 seems relatively modest from here. But the penalties are fairly stiff, so perhaps that will prevent a team dominating with dollars.
— MLB bigwigs felt they helped balance things out by capping the Latin spending and adding tough penalties for teams over the tax multiple times. But the Yankees are benefiting greatly by a more favorable revenue sharing calculation for them, too.
— Good job by all to do away with smokeless tobacco. And while I agree the home field being decided by the best record of the pennant winner rather than the All-Star Game is an improvement, I wasn’t as up in arms as others about that twist, which added a touch of spice to things initially. MLB consulted with its TV partner FOX, though, and apparently FOX felt the impact had worn off.
— Thumbs up for the Baby Cakes, the new nickname of the New Orleans minor-league team. Jury’s out on the Dock Spiders of Fond du lac.