Chris Sale is amongst the top pitchers in baseball, and would certainly help the Chicago Cubs. But the price to get him is simply too high for the Cubs.
The Cubs are having issues with their starting rotation lately. Sitting at 39-32 and in third place in the NL Central, they’re still very much alive in the chase for a playoff spot. But for them to actually get there, they might need to make a trade for a pitcher. The good news for the Cubbies is that there are several options on the market this year.
So with the Cubs contending and looking to buy at the trade deadline, the somewhat notoriously lazy mainstream Chicago sports media talking heads have been busy mixing their Cubs and White Sox coverage. See, the Sox are awful and are likely to look at selling some of their parts. Obviously that means the Sox should trade Chris Sale to the Cubs, right?
I’ve heard it spoken on 670 The Score on three different shows, as well as written by Phil Rogers here. To his credit, the Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh actually gets it right in his column, claiming that the White Sox shouldn’t be dealing Sale in the first place. And to be honest, I don’t think they will trade Sale. But if they were, it wouldn’t be something the Cubs would end up considering anyway.
That sounds nuts, right? Yeah, it kind of is. Sale is a transcendent talent. He’s a left-handed starting pitcher that throws a hard fastball, regularly sitting between 94-96 mph. He has a wicked 80 mph slider, and has been putting up ridiculous strikeout totals lately, reminding some of Randy Johnson somewhat early in his career. Since becoming a full-time starter in 2012, Sale has started 99 games and struck out 10.1 per nine innings with a 2.82 ERA and 2.90 FIP.
Sale is currently only 26 years old and is signed through 2019, making $47 million over the course of that time (unless he’s bought out in 2018 or 2019, which will only cost $1 million). To say he’s on an extremely team-friendly deal would be to put it kindly. What do you think would be fair trade value for a 26-year-old ace, left-handed starting pitcher signed for four more seasons on the cheap?
Not the kind of price many teams can match. However, the Cubs likely could. The White Sox have a need for hitting, and have historically had issues drafting and developing hitters. Let’s start with the obvious first piece to a trade of this magnitude; Addison Russell.
I know a lot of Cubs fans just gasped, but don’t be stupid. Russell was traded less than a year ago for Jeff freakin’ Samardzija and Jason Hammel, so if you think he’s untouchable for Chris Sale you’re drastically undervaluing Sale. Next would likely be Kyle Schwarber, the catcher/left fielder/designated hitter. The bat is ready for the big leagues, so you’d likely see him on the South Side in 2016 if this kind of trade went down.
I’ve written on more than one occasion on Schwarber, because I like him a lot. He just recently had a short stint with the Cubs, acting as the designated hitter. He did well. He’s an elite hitter and would fit with just about any team, with a special emphasis on a team that could play him at DH part of the time.
After the two head-liners, you’re probably looking at Javier Baez, who still has a lot going for him as well. He’s only 22 years old, could play second base next to Russell at shortstop, and could probably hit 50 homers a year if he was playing at the Cell. He’s currently on the disabled list with a broken finger and not due back for about a month or so, but he would probably have been with the Cubs by now had that not happened.
There’s probably more that would be involved in a deal for Sale, but I think those three names accurately portray how much you’d have to give up to make the deal worth doing for the White Sox. So is it worth it for the Cubs? The answer is yes, if they win a World Series as a result. But that’s obviously no sure thing, as any Cubs fan knows.
Here’s where reality starts to set in. The Cubs wouldn’t do this kind of trade, at least not right now. First of all, check out what Sale’s arm looks like when he’s in mid-pitch:
Secondly, he missed time last year when he strained a muscle in his throwing arm. He’s also had to miss time since 2012 because of elbow soreness and shoulder tendonitis. I’m not saying Sale is injury prone or that I think he’s going to fall apart, but it’s always a major concern when trading for pitchers. But all of that aside, there’s another major reason the Cubs wouldn’t do this trade.
Remember the last three years, when the Cubs were bad on purpose? That was done to build up the farm system and set this team up for a long, sustained run of success. I don’t think they’re willing to sell the farm and give up everything they worked the last few years to build just for one player. If it goes poorly, it would set them back big time. But don’t just take my word for it, get it straight from the horses mouth, via Bruce Levine at CBSLocal.com:
“You just must balance it the best you can,” Epstein said. “You can’t take any opportunity to win for granted. You have to seize the moment. At the same time, we are aware that one of the primary reasons we have a team in contention is because of a healthy organization that has been built.”
“The talent is the other part of it. We wouldn’t sacrifice those things lightly. We wouldn’t trade prospects we believe in lightly. At the same time, there is a time and a reason to do it when the right deal presents itself.”
The right trade might be giving up a solid prospect or two for Scott Kazmir, Johnny Cueto, or even making the right deal for Cole Hamels (going on the assumption he wouldn’t cost nearly what Sale would). I could see the Cubs doing a deal for any of these guys, and I fully expect they’ll do something to address the problems in the rotation.
With the Cardinals lead in the division building by the day, hopefully Epstein jumps the market soon and lands that starting pitcher that he so badly needs. The Cubs certainly have an opportunity to win, and they shouldn’t take it for granted. But trading the whole farm for any one player? They won’t be doing that.