He’s listened to trade offers for five years so if a whopper crosses his desk this winter, Rick Hahn has a good idea about five-time All-Star Chris Sale’s value.
Last month — long before the White Sox continued to make it sound as if a rebuild is a strong possibility — an American League source said the asking price for Sale last July was exorbitant, but fair compared with what competing teams wanted for their pitchers.
While this winter’s weak free-agent class could make Sale more valuable than ever, it would appear as if the White Sox have a solid grasp on what to ask for in return should they trade their perennial Cy Young candidate. Now in his fifth season as White Sox general manager, Hahn has always entertained trade chatter from fellow GMs in order to determine the market value of his players.
“We have a good sense for it,” Hahn said. “Regardless of the caliber of player on our roster we try to have regular communication with other clubs about how they view all of our guys. Although at this time of year things become a little more serious and direct, you’re rarely surprised about how certain players are viewed in the market based on those conversations that been going on.”
Gauging Sale’s value and the potential for trading him has never been easy. Not only is he absurdly talented, Sale is on a fantastic contract, which has three years and roughly $38 million left if his two team options are exercised. Those factors mean an opposing team must surrender an overwhelmingly talented package of prospects in order to capture the attention of the White Sox, who aren’t in a position where they must trade the left-hander.
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“It’s a lot more complicated than a normal trade,” one major league executive said in 2015. “How do you get back enough talent to justify it?
“He’s probably the best pitcher in the game, so what’s the price you attach to that? It’s hard when they think about what they can ask for and is a team willing to sort of blow their whole top of the system out?”
“It’s really hard. And you better be right.”
But there’s a sense it would be easier for the White Sox to find the proper value this offseason.
Not only is there less time left on Sale’s deal, there’s a “perfect market” to attract the right buyers, according to several MLB executives. With Rich Hill the best free agent on the market, the White Sox boast the best option when it comes to pitching if they choose to trade Sale.
Also, teams with the farm systems best suited to trade for Sale — Houston, Los Angeles, Texas and Boston, among others — would appear to be hungry for a No. 1 starter.
Hahn said at the GM meetings last week the White Sox are obligated to continue to entertain offers for Sale. But he doesn’t expect to find many surprises given he’s listened to trade talk for his prized southpaw since almost the start of his career.
“How long have I been doing this?” Hahn said. “We drafted him in ’10, so probably since ’11. He’s understandably a popular name. He’s not alone on our roster obviously, but he’s certainly the one that attracts the most headlines and speculation because he’s a perennial Cy Young contender, he’s in his prime and he’s controllable for the next three years. So it certainly makes sense that he’s (asked about).”