Since his Edward Scissorhands moment in late July of last season, Chris Sale has been talked about as a potential trade chip for the White Sox. Sale has been one of the best pitchers in the AL over the past three seasons (dating back to 2014), amassing 16.6 total fWAR (fifth-best) and a 10.56 K/9 (fourth-best among qualified starters). If you expand the timeframe to 2012, Sale’s numbers are no less impressive; he sits in the top 10 in K, K/9 and ERA, and checks in at 12th overall, with 1014.2 IP (202 per season).
Any team who wishes to acquire Sale would be acquiring the surefire number one starter in terms of value, in my eyes. Sale is due only $12MM next season, a pittance when compared to the $30MM Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw make annually. Sale also has two team-options in 2018 and 2019 (that are for $12.5 and $13.5MM, respectively) that will likely be picked up, but in case of an injury or freak accident the team who owns Sale’s contract will also be able to buy him out for $1MM. For reference, 43-year-old Bartolo Colon just received $12.5MM for a one-year deal with the Atlanta Braves. This means that Bartolo Colon will make more than Chris Sale for this upcoming season. Think about that for a second. While Colon is able to eat innings, he doesn’t provide the immense strikeout upside and elite ERA Sale provides over the same number of innings.
Some may view Sale to be a bad presence in the clubhouse, but I think he just has issues with the White Sox management. When Adam LaRoche suddenly retired at the beginning of 2016, Sale said that the management “lied to” the players, and this was the first of a few instances this past season where Sale and the management in the organization butted heads. A change of scenery may be just what Sale needs to finally capture that elusive Cy Young, and there are currently a few teams on the market vying for his services.
The Atlanta Braves, who just inked SPs R.A. Dickey and the aforementioned Colon (both older than 40) to one-year deals, surely have a need for young pitching. Unlike the other teams who have a need for young pitching (to be honest, who doesn’t?), the Braves have the assets to go out and get it. The Braves can offer both MLB-level talent and prospects. Matt Kemp and Nick Markakis headline the possible MLB-level haul, while prospects such as speedster CF Mallex Smith (ranked the Braves 8th-best prospect after 2015), IF Ozzie Albies (their current #2 prospect), and LHP Sean Newcomb (their #3) represent the possible minor-league options to intrigue the White Sox. GM John Coppolella indicated during the season that he has become increasingly more open to dealing prospects for MLB-level talent. If the Braves do end up making a push for Sale, I can’t see them giving up any less than two top-ten prospects and either a major leaguer or another lower-level prospect.
The Los Angeles Dodgers represent an interesting case. Their top three pitchers for next season are all but decided; Clayton Kershaw will lead their rotation followed by Kenta Maeda and 20-year-old phenom Julio Urias. A wise move for them would be to add Jose De Leon to the rotation and then fill the 5th spot with a relatively inexpensive free agent starter such as Charlie Morton, Colby Lewis or Doug Fister.
With that in mind, the Dodgers definitely have the ability to trade for Sale. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a need, since they aren’t starved for pitching, but they could certainly improve their rotation. A trade for Sale would likely have to be headlined by Urias, and would also likely need to include a slew of the Dodgers other top prospects. If the Dodgers were to make a move for Sale, I could see a package of SP Julio Urias, OF Yasiel Puig (the jury’s still out on him, I find it unlikely that any team would be willing to take him in a trade considering the issues he has caused in the Dodgers clubhouse), and OF Alex Verdugo or OF Yusniel Diaz heading to the south side of the Windy City.
Other teams with perceived or demonstrated interested in Sale (but less likely to make a move on him, in my opinion) include the Nationals (already have good in-house pitching, they are contending this year and don’t need to give up their future since they are already in a good spot), Yankees (don’t have the prospect depth to go after him, and likely don’t want to give up anyone who they hauled in during the deadline this past season).
J.D. Martinez’s name has also been floated around in trade rumors since the end of the GM meetings according to MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi. Martinez will be a free agent following the 2017 season, and if the Tigers trade him he will not be the first power hitting OF they ship off in a contract year. The Tigers are in a position to contend (they missed the playoffs by 2.5 games last year), but are probably not going to make the playoffs due to the stacked nature of the Junior Circuit.
This is a bit of a tangent, but if I had to guess, the Indians will take home the AL Central and the two AL wild cards will be captured by one of the Jays (won in 2016), O’s (won in 2016), Astros (full year of Bregman, maybe Reed and Keuchel rebound) or Yankees (can’t ever count them out).
Martinez has been linked to the Giants in rumors which makes perfect sense considering the Giants’ regular LF from last season, Angel Pagan, is now a free agent. I mentioned earlier that the Giants’ farm system is really just not that deep, and I don’t think there is much of interest that the Giants could ship to Detroit to land Martinez. The Giants have already dealt a few of their top prospects in recent years, including SP Adalberto Mejia (went to the Twins last year in exchange for Eduardo Nunez), RP Heath Hembree (went to Boston in Peavy deal in 2014) and Adam Duvall (went to Cincy for Mike Leake). With all that in mind, it might not take much to get Martinez from Detroit, since it only cost the Mets their #13 prospect at the time, Michael Fulmer, to get Yoenis Cespedes.
The Blue Jays have also been asking around about left-handed outfield bats, according to ESPN’s Jim Bowden. The Blue Jays lost outfielders Jose Bautista and Michael Saunders to free agency in addition to slugger Edwin Encarnacion, so a trade for a lefty OF (Saunders, a lefty, was their starting LF) seems like the logical move.
Aside from re-signing Saunders, they could feasibly go after left-handed free-agent outfielders Josh Reddick or Colby Rasmus or switch-hitting outfielders Dexter Fowler or Angel Pagan. If all they’re looking for is a left-handed platoon mate for Melvin Upton Jr., they could go after Alejandro De Aza, who spent 2016 with the Mets.
On the trade front, the Jays could go after Braves OF Nick Markakis (though the Braves seem unlikely to give him up) or Mets OF Jay Bruce, who is on a relatively cheap $13MM contract for this season, but who will hit free agency after the season. Of course, the Mets will likely not deal Bruce until they have secured their top free-agent option, Yoenis Cespedes. Markakis will be 33 on opening day and Bruce 30, but as long as they can contribute this season I don’t see age being an issue in completing a trade for either of these bats.
In other news, two relief pitchers have decided to hang up their uniforms for good in the last 24 hours: Joel Hanrahan and Joe Thatcher. Hanrahan retires with a nice, round 100 saves to his name, and a 9.81 K/9 to boot. Thatcher, who spent most of his career in San Diego, finished with a 9.32 K/9 and just one save.