NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- It began with an exchange late last week between Rick Hahn and Dave Dombrowski, a simple inquiry to gauge the Boston Red Sox general manager’s interest in superstar Chris Sale.
Four days later, the White Sox and Boston finalized Tuesday what potentially could be a franchise-altering swap for both teams. The White Sox shipped Sale, their homegrown, five-time All-Star pitcher, to the Red Sox in exchange for a four-player package that includes two elite prospects, second baseman Yoan Moncada and pitcher Michael Kopech. The move solidifies an already-outstanding Red Sox rotation that included two Cy Young winners and signifies the start of a potentially massive rebuild for the White Sox.
And it all started with a 6 p.m. phone call on Friday.
“I said, ‘Well, of course we have interest in Chris Sale. Anybody in baseball would have interest in Chris Sale,’” Dombrowski said from the Winter Meetings. “‘It would be a matter of what you were looking to acquire’ and we talked a little bit.
“He said, ‘Well, we're going to get away from some of the things that we've asked for in the past.’
“I said, ‘Well, we're prepared to give up a lot,’ which we know. And we went through some of the names. He talked to me Friday night, kind of put one thing in motion, if we would give up one player. Called me again Saturday, we had another name. And then we talked numerous times over the last few days.”
With the new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, Hahn called Dombrowski on Friday to initiate the conversation. Hahn said he’d previously fielded calls for a month after having “substantive” discussions at the GM meetings and knew there’d be interest and “positive momentum” once he arrived Sunday. He also knew the Red Sox not only wanted Sale, they had enough in place to make the deal.
Whereas in previous talks the White Sox desired Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi, they shifted their focus. Neither was involved in this round of talks as the White Sox first asked for Moncada, the 2016 minor league player of the year and MLB.com’s No. 1 overall prospect. Then they asked to include Kopech, who hit 105-mph on the radar gun in July and dominated hitters for 17 starts between Single-A and the Arizona Fall League.
Things only improved for the White Sox as the Washington Nationals and Houston Astros continued to show strong interest. A report surfaced on Monday night that the Nationals, though unwilling to trade Trea Turner, would include two top prospects, pitcher Lucas Giolito and outfielder Victor Robles, in a package for Sale. The Astros also improved their offer, though they never included top prospect Alex Bergman.
Each team offered a four-player package and White Sox officials returned to their suite and worked early into Tuesday morning to mull which offer was best.
“There was a great level of excitement since we got here about the caliber of players that we were likely to receive back,” Hahn said. “These are the type of impact players that we need to continue to acquire and build up to get our system to the point where we are able to have that extended run of success, and there were similar-type players being offered from other clubs, and there was a level of excitement in that room as we debated which was the best path for us.”
Dombrowski wrestled with the inclusion of Moncada, whom the Red Sox paid $63 million to sign in 2015, including a $31.5 million bonus and equivalent penalty for exceeding their international signing bonus pool. But in order to acquire an elite pitcher, Dombrowski knew he had to make it worth Hahn’s while.
“(Moncada is) a great player and if he's not a tremendous player I will be very surprised,” Dombrowski said. “But, again, you've got to give to get.”
White Sox officials returned to their suite early Tuesday morning and continued to deliberate the packages they would receive in exchange for potentially the best pitcher in the franchise’s long history. After several hours, Hahn sent everyone to lunch and finally made his decision, which led to a much different type of call to inform Sale he’d been traded.
“It was not an easy phone call to make, but one, quite frankly, based upon the return that we were able to procure in this trade was one that we were extremely excited about making,” Hahn said. “We have made no secret heading into the offseason our goal is to put ourselves in the best position to contend for an extended period of time for multiple championships. Given where we were as an organization entering this off-season, we knew we were going to have to make some painful decisions. But if we had the opportunity to acquire some high-impact talent that would be around for a number of years, it was time to start that process.”