Chris Sale is a major league pitcher for the Chicago White Sox. Yesterday he was scratched from his start for reportedly taking scissors and attempting to cut up the throwback jerseys that his team was supposed to wear on a promotional night. He was sent home from the ballpark and has been suspended by the club for five games due to “insubordination”.
This underscores the fact that Sale is an emotional guy. Before the season started he had a ridiculous rift with the White Sox over Drake LaRoche — son of now-retired first baseman Adam LaRoche — after the organization made a decision that there should be a separation between kids of big leaguers and big leaguers within the clubhouse. It was a silly saga, but whatever.
As a competitor, Chris Sale would slit someone’s throat to win a game of Tiddlywinks.
That, I imagine, is why he is such a coveted major league starting pitcher, and why the Texas Rangers are interested in trading for him before the August 1st non-waiver trade deadline.
Sale, 27, is a true ace, and basically has been since he transitioned into a starting role in 2012. Among all big league starters, Sale ranks 4th in FanGraphs WAR (fWAR) since that time (+23.8), trailing only Clayton Kershaw (+34.7), Max Scherzer (+25.1) and David Price (+24.8). Category-to-category he is on the short list of the best pitchers in baseball.
To make matters more enticing, he is also signed to an extremely team-friendly contract. He’s signed for $9 million in 2016 and $12 million for 2017, and has two team options in ’18 and ’19 for $12.5 million and $13.5 million, respectively. Including a prorated portion of this year, the Rangers would theoretically be responsible for about $40 million over the next 3.5 years, roughly $11.4 million Average Annual Value (AAV).
That equates to about $330,000 per start, just to put money into perspective.
While it sounds expensive, it isn’t anywhere close to being. The top pitchers in today’s market — whether it’s Kershaw (signed for 7 years and $215 million), Scherzer (7 years, $210 million) or Price (7 years, $216 million) — earn substantially more.
Given context, if Sale were to hit free agency tomorrow he would likely earn something in the range of those three aforementioned starters. True market value would mean 3.5 years of sale would be cost about $107 million, only 37% of what he makes on his current deal.
If all this math seems confusing then here is the basic point, which isn’t: Chris Sale is a dominant MLB pitcher working for a fraction of his worth.
Because of this, the White Sox are reluctant to trade him unless they receive a boatload of talent in return. It’s been called “A King’s Ransom,” because that’s what sports writers say every year when a valuable arm is on the trade market.
Luckily for the Rangers, they — along with a precious few other teams, like the Red Sox, Cubs and Dodgers — have the ammunition to consummate such a transaction.
But so far, they haven’t been willing to make a deal. According to MLB dot com’s T.R. Sullivan:
The Rangers are being flexible about infielder Jurickson Profar, Triple-A third baseman Joey Gallo and some of their pitching. But they aren’t willing to include [Nomar] Mazara, who went 3-for-4 with a homer and three RBIs in Saturday night’s 7-4 win over the Royals. He is now hitting .287 with 12 home runs and 40 RBIs.
I’m a lot better at gauging free agent contracts, how many years and how many millions of dollars a player receives on the open market, than I am with trade proposals. But I will say if the Rangers are able to make a deal that involves only Profar and Gallo, or Profar and Mazara, they should absolutely do it. Of course, the trade would also include a few blue chip prospects in the minor leagues — such as RHP Luis Ortiz or LHP Yohander Mendez and a couple others — or else the White Sox won’t get their whistles wetted enough.
There are so few aces around Major League Baseball that supply and demand has to play a massive role in this. Especially during this trade deadline season, where there isn’t much available. The addition of Chris Sale would be worth at least two Wins — perhaps as many as three given the Rangers current rotation situation — over the course of the next two months.
And in October, still assuming Texas finds a way to win the AL West, there would not be a better 1-2-3 punch than Chris Sale, Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. Even the weakest of offenses could muster 2-3 runs in a game and have it stand up with a three-headed monster like that.
And let us not forget: The role of any farm system is to better the major league club, whether it’s through graduation or trade. The reason the Rangers put so much emphasis on building an organization filled with talent from the ground up is not so they win minor league games, it’s to contribute to winning a World Series.
When I was a teenager, notably in 2003-2005, I’d sit at home on summer nights listening to random Single-A and Double-A games on the radio, just to see how Thomas Diamond and John Danks and Edinson Volquez and Eric Hurley were pitching. You would be hard-pressed to find anyone who loves prospects more than I do. When the Rangers were a dormant franchise, pretty much since I started following the team all the way until 2010 — when they made it to their first World Series — I clanged to prospects more than I did the Rangers themselves. Because it at least gave me hope for a future I could believe in.
And that is, unironically, at a point when Texas’s farm system was one of the worst in baseball. There was no hope. There was no future.
Still only 26, in all likelihood I’m not going to die tomorrow. It’s not like the need to push all the chips in for this season is so great that I’d be willing to forfeit the farm system to try and win a championship this year.
At the same time, we are going on 20 years since I’ve been following the Rangers and they’ve still yet to win a World Series. What better time than right now?
Chris Sale isn’t the savior that was promised, but there isn’t another player out there who’s both (a) available and would (b) better increase Texas’s odds of hanging a championship banner. If the Rangers are going to make a move for a starter, it might as well be someone who could further their World Series cause to the greatest extent.
For that reason alone, I would be willing to ship Profar — my favorite position player — as well as future star Mazara and a few others. It could bankrupt the Rangers farm system, could set them back in a couple years when some of their aging veterans are either retired or out of the organization completely, but it makes the effort for now. And now has to have some importance.
I’d put the odds of a deal getting done at around 25%. That is neither good nor bad, only realistic. I think the Rangers treasure their prospects even more than I do, and so there’s a better chance they hold onto the next 5 years of Mazara, 6 years of Gallo, and 3 years of Profar.
If I’m General Manager, I pull the trigger. I do the goddamn thing.
That may, however, be why I’m not a General Manager.