NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — The White Sox got their bidding war and found a price to their liking enough to trade Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday afternoon.
The teams completed a deal that sends the five-time All Star east to Boston in exchange for top Red Sox prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech, among others. The White Sox also received Single-A outfielder Luis Basabe and Single-A pitcher Victor Diaz in a deal that has significantly boosts the farm system overnight. Three of the four players received were ranked in the top 10 players in Boston’s minor leagues, according to MLB.com, and all were within the top 30.
All the White Sox had to do was trade a homegrown pitcher who had the potential to be the best in franchise history and signal the start of what could be a massive rebuild.
“It’s hard,” general manager Rick Hahn said. “It’s real hard. He is one of our own. Or was one of our own. A homegrown guy who made his way to five All-Star Games and was controllable and projected to be damn good going forward. And it’s tough to give that up. At the same time, we have to be realistic about where we are and the likelihood of this current group getting to where we want to be. In the end you had to make the tough decision to let go of someone as valuable as Chris in order to pull back what we feel is a premium package that will help put us in a better position long term.”
The trade comes on the heels of a furious first day at the Winter Meetings where the White Sox saw multiple suitors make significant increases in their offers as part of a bidding war for Sale, who has finished in the top six in the American League Cy Young vote all five seasons he’s been a starting pitcher.
Moncada is the top player returning to the White Sox, the 2016 minor league player of the year and one Boston has previously insisted it wouldn’t part with after giving him a $31.5 million bonus in 2015.
MLB.com has Moncada, who turns 22 in May, listed as the No. 1 overall prospect in baseball. He hit .287/.395/.480 with 23 homers and 94 steals in 187 minor league games before he reached the majors at the end of the 2016 season.
Converted to third base by Boston, the rookie stuck out 12 times in 20 plate appearances in the bigs. But Hahn suggested Moncada could spend most, if not all, of 2017 in the minors and that he’ll return to second base.
Kopech is a hard-throwing right-hander who was the No. 5 prospect in the Red Sox farm system and is already No. 2 with the White Sox. He’s also listed as the No. 30 overall prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com.
After missing time because of a broken hand sustained in a spring training fight — “Basically, it was me trying to protect (a teammate). I’ll leave it at that. Yeah, and it kind of blew up on us,” Kopech told the Boston Globe last month — he went 4-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 11 starts at Single-A Salem last season, striking out 82 and walking 29 in 52 innings.
Kopech, who also received a 50-game suspension in 2015 after he tested positive for oxilofrine, followed up his regular-season showing with more dominance in the Arizona Fall League. He went 3-0 with a 2.01 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 22 1/3 innings, walking eight.
Basabe, who spent last season at Single-A Salem, was the No. 8 prospect in the Red Sox system and moved up to No. 7 with the White Sox. Diaz was No. 28 and is 29th with the White Sox after spending 2016 at Single-A Greenville.
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Two months after he said the first major move would highlight the White Sox direction, Hahn suggested more trades and that a deep rebuild is on the way.
“Today was the first step in what will very likely be an extended process but one that we feel, if we continue to acquire similar-type players with the upsides of the individuals that we acquired today, will be for the extended long-term benefit of the organization,” Hahn said.
The White Sox worked early into Tuesday morning as they began to field stronger offers from teams for Sale — who is owed $38 million over three years if his team options are exercised in 2018 and 2019 — starting late Monday.
The Washington Nationals reportedly offered a package that included pitcher Lucas Giolito and outfielder Victor Robles among others late Monday. The Houston Astros also made a strong push for Sale. But the Astros reportedly never included their top prospect Alex Bregman in any deals, and Washington wouldn’t part with Trea Turner.
All three teams offered four prospects in their packages for Sale, who is 27.
The White Sox had considered a deal for Sale since last July when Hahn said his club was once again “mired in mediocrity” as they fizzled after a 23-10 start. While Hahn said he wouldn’t tip his hand as to what direction the White Sox were headed, he has dropped a number of hints that they would begin a rebuild. Dissatisfied with a postseason drought now eight years long, the White Sox have decided to look at the long-term view as opposed to trying to piece together a club full of short-term fixes and what Hahn has described as “stopgaps” and “half-measures.”
Red Sox general manager Dave Dombrowski said as recently as last month that his club was satisfied with its rotation even after it was hit hard in a three-game sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians in the playoffs. Dombrowski reportedly wouldn’t include either Moncada or outfielder Andrew Benintendi in any deals for Sale as Boston was happy with its rotation, which includes 2016 AL Cy Young Rick Porcello.
But given they didn’t have to trade Sale unless their demands were met, the White Sox held firm knowing that suitors would come calling. Those offers began to improve as Monday wore on, especially after top free-agent pitcher Rich Hill signed a three-year, $48-million deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Had he stayed with the White Sox, Sale had a chance to be the best pitcher in franchise history. The left-hander went 74-50 with a 3.00 ERA in 228 games (148 starts), striking out 1,244 batters in 1,110 innings. Sale has produced 27.9 Wins Above Replacement in his career, according to fangraphs.com.
The team’s first-round pick in 2010, Sale reached the majors that season, appearing in 21 games in relief. He was converted to a starting pitcher in 2012 and excelled almost immediately, earning his first All-Star Game nod that July.
Citing the desire to win a title with the White Sox, Sale signed a five-year contract extension at spring training in 2013, a deal that included club options for 2018 and 2019 that totaled $57.5 million. The left-handed didn’t disappoint, averaging 203-plus innings in each of his five seasons as a starter.
Perhaps frustrated by the team’s mediocrity, Sale was involved in two high-profile incidents in 2016 that brought attention from the national media and several Vine-worthy moments. He ripped executive vice president Kenny Williams for 15 minutes several days after a dispute between Williams and Adam LaRoche led to the veteran slugger’s abrupt retirement. Sale also received a five-game suspension in July for insubordination and destruction of team property when he destroyed the throwback jerseys the team was scheduled to wear that night because he didn’t like how they fit.
Hahn said the incidents didn’t impact the team’s decision nor did they affect Sale’s value.
“Certainly was uneasy with some of the situations, but at the same time, as Chris and I talked about today, it was usually motivated — rightly or wrongly — it was usually motivated for him out of competitiveness and a desire to fight for what he felt was right,” Hahn said. “That competitiveness and that fight is part of what makes him good in between the white lines.
“Sometimes it may have spilled over a little in a way I think he would say in retrospect wasn’t quite appropriate. But he understood that, and we understood where he was coming from.”