By Steve Silverman
(CBS) — The first move has been made. The White Sox have traded Matt Thornton to the Red Sox for Double A outfielder Brandon Jacobs and that indicates that more trades are about to follow.
Many fans have a difficult time understanding why a team trades off its assets in the modern era to get top minor-league prospects and draft choices. It’s really the only way to go, especially when the talent in the minor league cupboard is bare. If you are a professional team with the hope of contending on a regular basis, there’s no other way to go about your business.
It’s not about catching lightning one time, making the playoffs and hoping to get the breaks to get to and win a World Series. It’s about being good enough to get to the playoffs in six of eight years.
They know that on the north side of town as Theo Epstein is committed to giving the Cubs a good, long run once they finally get there. Of course, there’s no guarantee they will get there if the draft choices and minor league prospects don’t grow and improve.
Rick Hahn has to know this with the White Sox as well. His team has played awful baseball all season and it would be a surprise at this point if the White Sox don’t finish in last place in the American League Central.
Worse, and it’s no secret, the White Sox have fewer major-league prospects in their minor league system than about 27 teams.
The only way they are going to get better is to trade the players who could help a contender win now.
That means anyone and everyone with the exception of Chris Sale, who may be the third-best pitcher in the American League, should be on the trading block.
Start off with Alex Rios, who may be worth more right now than at any point in the season. Rios is coming off a 6-for-6 game this week this against the Tigers. He’s got a .333/.442/.775 slash line (on-base percentage, slugging percentage, on-base plus slugging) has to be attractive for any contending team that needs outfield help.
For those more dependent on old-school stats, Rios stands up under that kind of scrutiny as well. He’s hitting .278, with 11 homers and 40 RBI. He can play every day or play the role of a fourth outfielder.
If Rios could bring a high minor-league prospect and a high draft pick or a moderate prospect, it could be the kind of deal that brings a little bit more life to the White Sox minor league system]
Jesse Crain should also bring a productive minor-league player or two. Crain has 0.74 earned run average and he has been on top of his game all year. Good teams win championships because they have tough and consistent bullpens. Any contender in either league can look at Crain and know that he will give them an inning or more of shut-down work in 95 percent of his appearances.
Crain has been out recently with shoulder soreness, but after the All-Star break is over, he should get his opportunity to return. Give him two appearances and then he’s got to be traded.
But Sale is the one player the White Sox should not trade. If it takes three years to recover, Sale would still be the ace of this team’s staff. In three years, Sale will be 27 and perhaps the best pitcher in the American League.
He’s already close to that right now. He is holding opposing batters to a .213 average. Forget about his 6-8 record, it basically means nothing. He has an impressive 2.85 ERA (fifth in AL) and a 1.01 WHIP (third in AL).
You hold on to players like Sale to win championships. It doesn’t matter if it’s in three, five or seven years. He’s a championship-caliber pitcher and he will remain so as long as he remains healthy.
The prescription for the future is a painful one. It will take years of growth to get to consistent contender status. If Hahn is good at his job, he’ll do it in three years. If not, it will take more.
But the Thornton trade says that he understands what needs to be done and the first step has been taken.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman was with Pro Football Weekly for 10 years and his byline has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, Playboy, NFL.com and The Sporting News. He is the author of four books, including Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time. Follow him on Twitter (@profootballboy) and read more of his CBS Chicago columns here.