The White Sox finally picked a direction for their future on Tuesday afternoon when they dealt ace Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for four minor league prospects. The trade of Sale indicates that the White Sox are finally entering a full rebuild, something they have been avoiding for years. It also marks the end of the tenure of a pitcher that very well could have gone down as the greatest in team history had he stuck around.
Sale was 74-50 over parts of seven seasons with the White Sox, and 70-47 since moving to a full time starting role in 2012. His career WHIP ranks second in club history for a pitcher with over 1000 innings pitched behind Hall of Famer Ed Walsh and his strikeout per nine rate is the best by almost 1.5 K’s. In 2015 Sale set the White Sox single season strikeout record with 274 K’s, a record that had stood since 1908. He ranks 18th overall in club history in bWAR, and ninth among pitchers.
The trading of Sale was something that needed to be done, but it also marks the end of a tremendous failure by the White Sox organization to win with such a dynamic young talent. Over the last five years Chris Sale average fWAR was 5.24, and had the fourth highest total WAR of any pitcher over that time span. The other three, (Kershaw, Scherzer, Price) all made multiple playoff appearances over that stretch.
Not only was Sale good, he was young (turns 28 in March), and he was cheap, making only a total of $20 million over the last five years. Those other three pitchers mentioned above all made over $22 million last year alone.
The Sox were unable to win, or even compete, with one of the best pitchers in baseball, along with several other young, affordable pieces in Abreu, Eaton, and Quintana. This represents an incredible failure by the organization to capitalize on this young core, which will now likely be used only to restock the organization and try to build the next young, cheap core of White Sox players. If Sox fans are mad about anything today, it should be what the trade of Chris Sale symbolizes, more than the trade itself.
Now on to the trade. The White Sox got four young pieces back for Sale, including three of the Red Sox top three prospects. Let’s go through each of them one by one.
Moncada is the number one overall prospect in baseball according to MLB.com and was number one on Baseball America’s Midseason top-100 list. He is a 21-year-old switch hitting Cuban infielder. He likely will become Tim Anderson’s double play partner at second base, but also has played some third base as well.
The Red Sox invested a ton of money in Moncada coming out of Cuba, signing him for $31.5 million, and also having to pay a matching penalty for going way over their international signing budget. So not only did the Red Sox give up the top rated prospect in baseball, they also sent their $63 million investment out the door as well.
Moncada is a true five-tool talent that has drawn comparisons to Robinson Cano as a second baseman. He has a plus hit tool along with above average power and could be a 20+ home run guy, especially at US Cellu…Guaranteed Rate Field (ugh). He slugged over .500 in the minors last year between high-A and AA with 52 extra base hits in 106 games.
Moncada’s speed is his highest rated tool, and that has shown up as well in the minors. He has put up back-to-back 45+ steal seasons with an 86% success rate over the last two years.
There are some things Moncada needs to work on offensively though, including a 30.9% strikeout rate at AA last year. That came with him to Boston for his brief eight game stint with the Red Sox last year where he struck out 12 times, including his final nine at bats. The good news is that Moncada had a walk rate of around 14% in the minors last year and posted a .407 on-base percentage.
Defensively the word is that Moncada still needs to do some work. He has a very good arm and with his speed should have good range, but he hasn’t been consistent yet in the field. He committed 17 errors last year at second base in the minors in 92 games.
The bottom line is that Moncada is the centerpiece of this deal and has all the tools to become a possible superstar for the White Sox. There are still some concerns with him and not every top prospect pans out, but the ceiling is high and I would be shocked if he isn’t at least an above average major league player.
Kopech was the Red Sox first round pick (33rd overall) in 2014 out of high school. He is the Red Sox fifth rated prospect according to MLB.com and number 67 overall on their list. He checked in at number 93 on the Baseball America mid-season list.
Kopech is a 6’ 3’’, 205 pound right-handed flamethrower. His fastball is by far his top tool, and any radar gun will tell you why. Last year his heater was clocked at 105 mph in his third start back from a hand injury. His slider is rated above average and he is still working on a changeup as well.
There are some issues with Kopech to worry about. He was suspended 50 games for use of a banned substance in 2015. Last year he missed three months after breaking his pitching hand during a fight with a teammate in spring training.
As you might expect with a fastball like his, Kopech racked up the strikeouts the last two years in the minors, highlighted with a 13.7 K/9 rate last year, mostly at high-A. In 52 innings last year at A+ he had a 40% strikeout rate and held opponents to a .146 batting average. He also had a BB/9 rate of 5.0 and a 14.2 walk percentage, so control seems to be his biggest weakness. If he can learn to command his pitches the sky is the limit.
There is some conversation about whether Kopech is a starter long term or if his big fastball is better suited for a bullpen role. I have to assume the Sox believe he will be a starter for him to be the other big piece of this trade. And if there is one thing the Sox organization actually does do well, it is develop pitchers.
Basabe is the eighth ranked prospect in the Red Sox organization. He is a 20-year-old switch hitting Venezuelan outfielder. He and his twin brother (Luis ALEJANDRO Basabe), were both signed by the Red Sox back in 2012. His brother was traded to Arizona last season.
This Basabe remains a work in progress, but does have a five-tool upside. He has a plus power tool, which should get better as he adds muscle. Like Moncada, Basabe also has plus speed, and stole 25 bases in 30 attempts last season at single-A Greenville. He also has a plus arm, which means he would be fine in the corners as well as in center field.
As expected, Basabe struck out quite a bit last year, 119 times in 110 games. But he also managed to draw 41 walks, which shows he has at least some plate discipline.
Basabe has some work to do, but there are a lot of people who are high on him. He is probably at least a year or two away, but he is by no means a throw away part of this deal. At best he is a future centerfielder with power, but you have to like his chances to be a solid everyday player at the least.
Diaz checks in at number 28 on the Red Sox top-30 prospects according to MLB.com. He is a 22-year-old right handed pitcher from the Dominican Republic.
Another right-hander with a big arm, Diaz has also been known to hit triple-digits on the radar gun. He also has a slider and a splitter that sit in the low-90’s.
While the Sox are hopefull that Kopech can be a starter, Diaz is most certainly a reliever. He appeared out of the bullpen in all 37 appearances last year at single-A Greenville, picking up 10 saves. He struck out more than a batter per inning, but also walked 25 batters in 60 innings.
Diaz has the ceiling of a high-end reliever, but in order to do that, he will have to harness his command and control better than he has shown so far. Once again though, the Sox have done well with pitchers in their past, so I wouldn’t be surprised if they are able to turn Diaz into a useful bullpen piece down the line.
So, what do you think White Sox fans? Did they get enough for Chris Sale?
I believe that they got a lot of talent back in this trade, and of all the possible deals out there, this one is probably the best they could have done. Moncada and Kopech have the chance to be big time players for them in the future, and Basabe and Diaz could become important contributors as well.
But in order for this trade to be viewed favorably in the future, Moncada needs to become that All-Star everyone thinks he is and Kopech needs to become a top-end starter, not reliever. Otherwise this deal could turn into the White Sox version of the Marlins trading Miguel Cabrera to the Tigers for Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller.
We will also need to see what other dominoes fall for the Sox this off-season, as this trade is likely only the first of several major trades. One thing is for sure, the Sox are finally committing to their future, which is good. Now they need to develop these players from top prospects, to major leaguers. Their ability to do that will determine whether the White Sox will have any relevance over the next decade. If they can’t, than fans will look back on this trade as a black mark in the middle of a long period of losing, and they will find it hard to forgive the organization for being unable to compete with this core.