The Nationals were the real losers of the Chris Sale trade

On Tuesday (December 6th), Chris Sale, strikeout machine, perennial Cy Young contender, and five-time all-star, was dealt for top prospects 2B Yoan Moncada and SP Michael Kopech, and two low-level (SP Victor Diaz and CF Luis Alexander Basabe) prospects. Both teams benefited from the trade in one way or another; the Red Sox acquired one of the best pitchers in baseball to add to their rotation of Cy Young winners (David Price and Rick Porcello, though Porcello shouldn’t have won) and the White Sox landed a solid crop of young talent, including the #1 and #30 overall prospects in baseball (as of December 2016).

The players involved in the deal just need to switch up their socks and they should be good to go, and all the White Sox should now feel safe wearing whatever jersey they please now that Chris “Edward Scissorhands” Sale is out of the Windy City.

In my view, there were two main takeaways from this trade. The first is that the White Sox didn’t get enough for Sale. The second is that the Nationals were the biggest losers of the swap.

The Red Sox gave up two of their organizational top four prospects, a low-end organizational top tenner (Basabe, #7 or #8 in the Boston system depending upon whom you ask) and wild card prospect (Diaz, high 20s in the Boston organization). This haul is nothing to sneeze at, but Sale, at least in my opinion, is worth more than they got for him. The Red Sox will now get three seasons of one of the top three pitchers in baseball for a combined $39.5MM (AAV $13.16MM), which is pocket change in relation to what the other aces of Major League Baseball are making. For comparison, Kershaw is making $33MM a year for the next three years (though he has an opt out after 2018, so it’s possible he seeks more money), Scherzer is making $30MM AAV over the next three years (his Spotrac page shows only $15MM, but that’s because his contract is heavily back loaded and he will also be getting 7 years of deferred money after his contract expires), Greinke will make around $31MM AAV, and Verlander is making $28MM annually in each of the next three seasons. Sale will  be making less than half of all these players’ average salaries to perform at exactly the same level or better. The fact that the Red Sox have Sale now for three years at a cost that, comparatively to other aces, is perhaps one of the most team-friendly contracts in Major League Baseball history justifies the haul of prospects they gave up, but I think the White Sox could have easily gotten more.

It’s extremely difficult to say what specific players they could have gotten in addition to the four they received, but it’s not difficult to say that Chicago certainly could have started a bidding war for his services, something that I do not believe happened. The earliest reports suggested that Chicago’s asking price for Sale was far too high and that they wouldn’t come down from that price at all, but if what they ended up doing is them coming down, even a little bit, they should have stuck with the higher price. Obviously they didn’t get a bad haul, and anything above the four guys they got would just be a bonus, because Moncada, Kopech, and Basabe are the real wins in this trade for the ChiSox.

On to my second point, the fact that the Nats were the real losers in this trade.

The Nationals were firmly leading the Sale sweepstakes essentially up until the BoSox swooped in and traded for him. On Monday night, Joel Sherman of the NY Post tweeted that there was “an 80-20 chance” Sale would end up with the Nationals. The 20% ended up being true, because Sale is now in Bean Town.

Last season, the Nationals had eight different starters take at least four turns through the rotation. Obviously some injuries are to be expected, but they have guys like Joe Ross, who is fresh off a shoulder injury, and Stephen Strasburg, who has a lengthy injury history, in their rotation, which means they need to be extra careful with the guys they acquire. A potential Sale package from the Nats would have included three top forty prospects: SP Lucas Giolito (#3), OF Victor Robles (#10) and SP Reynaldo Lopez (#38), according to MLB Trade Rumors. Those three names are also the top three prospects in the Nationals organization, which just goes to show you how willing the Nats were to acquire Sale.

I’m a Mets fan, so I’m not angry about the Nats not getting Sale, but if the Nats were willing to essentially forego the future (they would be losing their top three prospects, and they also are handicapped anywhere between $10MM and $25MM each year from 2022 to 2030 due to deferred money owed to Strasburg and Scherzer) why didn’t they offer more? They could have easily thrown in a low-level organizational prospect (a guy in their 20-30 organizational range like Tres Barrera, Raudy Read, or Jakson Reetz, all of whom are catchers) and landed Sale, because I feel comfortable saying that a package of three top-40 prospects and a lower level organizational guy is a good package for Sale. At least, if I was an advisor for the ChiSox I would have told them to accept a package of Giolito, Robles, Lopez, and one of those catchers over the package they ended up taking from the BoSox.

My point here is this: for just a bit more, the Nats could have had Sale. Why didn’t they go that extra mile? Sale is an established major leaguer and the Nats time to win is now, not in the future. If the organization has a chance to make a championship run, they need to seize that opportunity at all costs. Sure, they would be handicapped in the future from both a financial perspective and a talent perspective, but doesn’t a World Series win make up for all of that? I think yes.

If someone came to me tonight and said “The Mets will have an extremely good chance of winning the World Series this year and will contend very seriously for the next few seasons, but you have to give up Amed Rosario, Dom Smith and Justin Dunn to do so,” I would respond “Where do I sign?” The Nats had a similar opportunity and they squandered it. Think what you want about the package the White Sox received or the immense amount of talent the Red Sox surrendered to acquire Sale, but the Nationals are the real losers of this trade.

(Image Credit: Denny Medley/USA TODAY Sports)

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