Shepkowski: A Chris Sale Trade? Return Would Have To Be Astronomical

By Nick Shepkowski–

(CBS) There’s a lot of stupid floating around over the last few days, and I’m not just talking about every time Adam Eaton seems to open his mouth.

Since Drakegate or whatever you want to call it, people have called this radio station and posted endlessly on the Internet about how the White Sox should trade ace left-hander Chris Sale, all because he voiced his opinion and had some regrettable comments in wake of a weird locker room situation that saw Adam LaRoche retire after the request that his 14-year-old son, Drake, significantly reduce the time he spent around the team.

Let me first make clear that I’m always open for listening on offers for any player in any sport, but trading them is a whole different story. I’d listen on a potential trade for Sale if I was in the shoes of Kenny Williams or Rick Hahn. And if I was Theo Epstein, I’d listen on a trade offer for Kris Bryant or Anthony Rizzo.

But it’d be next to impossible to actually get me to pull the trigger on any of those.

With the talk — or more accurately put, ridiculous requests — to trade Sale, it got me thinking on what would have to be offered for me to actually say “yes” to a potential deal. Spoiler alert: It’d take a ton.

For some reference, let’s look back at a few deals that sent superstar players to different cities that weren’t middle-of-the-season or deadline deals.

Ken Griffey Jr. was dealt from Seattle to Cincinnati back before the 2000 season, when he was coming off of a run in which he’d averaged 53 home runs a season and posted OPS marks of 1.028, .977 and .960 in the three previous seasons. Simply put, Griffey was one of the two or three best players in the game at the time.

What did the Mariners get in return? Mike Cameron, Antonio Perez and Brett Tomko.

Cameron was already well-respected and went on to play a dozen more seasons in the big leagues, hitting 234 more home runs along the way. He was far and away the most successful player the Mariners got back in the deal, as Perez played all of 216 career games in the majors while Tomko played seemingly forever but finished his big league career with a total WAR of just 16.3.

I know the need to trade Griffey was there because he was entering a contract year, but hardly was that a king’s ransom for what was one of the game’s absolute best players.

Alex Rodriguez was entering his age-28 season when he and his enormous contract were dealt from the Rangers to the Yankees in February 2004, just days after it appeared he would become the next member of the Red Sox. Obviously, Texas wanted out of the mega-deal, mitigating the facts that Rodriguez was a 27-win player in his previous three years. In return for Rodriguez, the Rangers received All-Star second baseman Alfonso Soriano and the unheralded Joaquin Arias.

Soriano played two years in Texas and was an All-Star in each, averaging 32 homers and 97 RBIs. Rodriguez was an All-Star in seven of the next eight seasons and won two MVPs in that stretch for the Yankees.

It still took years after the trade for the Rangers to begin scouting and developing their own talent a lot better. That was why they eventually became a regular threat to win the American League pennant, not because they traded the then best player in baseball.

Thinking back before the 2008 season, we saw another superstar hitter get dealt with years left on his contract as the Tigers were made everyone’s preseason favorite after acquiring Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera from the Marlins. Despite being just 24 at the time, Cabrera had already been to four All-Star Games and had a pair of top-five MVP finishes. Cabrera has gone on to become one of the greatest right-handed hitters the game has ever seen.

The “can’t-miss” players who went back to Florida? Those would be Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, who were rated as the No. 6 and No. 10 prospects a season before in 2007. Maybin and Miller have combined to have a career WAR of 17, while Cabrera’s checks in at 63.

Some of the more successful deals for the teams trading away the star player have been in-season trades.

Zack Greinke was dealt from the Royals to the Brews in 2011 with a year-and-a-half left on his contract. In that deal, Lorenzo Cain went to Kansas City, and he’s been one of the Royals’ most valuable players, having helped them with two World Series appearances and a crown in the the last two seasons. Still, it’s worth remembering even in that deal: Greinke was deal with a year-and-a-half left on his deal.

Sale currently has four seasons left on his deals on really team-friendly terms. It’s one of the best bargains in the entire game, as he’s set to make about $47 million over the next four years — $9.15 million this season, $12 million in 2017 and then has team options of $12.5 million and $13.5 million in the ensuring two years.

So if I’m in the White Sox front office that’s taking a call on Sale, the offer on the other side better be made up of several key components for me to truly consider it and pull the trigger. As a hypothetical, let’s use the Red Sox as a potential trade partner, as they’re thrown in rumors all the time, including over the weekend. It’s also worth noting that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has made the big move before, as he was the Tigers’ president/general manager in the aforementioned Cabrera acquisition.

Here’s what the White Sox should be asking for:

1. A favorable club-controlled contract of a young star who might turn into one of baseball’s elite players

In Boston, think of outfielder Mookie Bets, who was nearly a five-win player last year, made just more than $500,000 and won’t become a free agent until at least 2021.

2. Another big league-ready player who’s young and again under club control for a few years who will provide a few years of multiple wins in the WAR department

This is where it gets tough with the Red Sox, because there aren’t a whole lot of options. Xander Bogaerts is just 23 and is coming off a year he was worth almost 4.5 wins. That’s asking a lot, and this is probably the point where Dombrowski and Co. hang up, but this is crucial for getting fair value for Sale, when considering his talent and contract.

3. A highly regarded prospect who adds to my farm system, even if he’s not “special”

Third baseman Rafael Devers is just 19, and Baseball Prospectus projects him to be Manny Machado without the steals. That’s the kind of player I’m thinking about.

Get all three of those, and you can convince me to pull the trigger on a Sale deal. That’s enough currently proven big league talent mixed in with another potential star coming to the White Sox, an organization that has had trouble developing its own position player talents and could greatly use young, quality everyday players.

The likelihood of it happening is next to none, but if you want four years of a surefire ace and an annual Cy Young candidate, that’s the price of doing business.

Like I said, I’ll listen if someone is willing to make an offer on Sale, but chances are the offer would never gain any traction because the asking price is simply that high for one of baseball’s most talented arms.

Nick Shepkowski is a weekend host at 670 The Score and produces The Spiegel and Goff Show each weekday from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.  You can find all of his work here and follow him on Twitter @Shep670.

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