(CBS) The White Sox have made the blockbuster move that marks the start of their rebuild.
Chicago on Tuesday traded ace left-hander Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox for star second baseman prospect Yoan Moncada, as well three other prospects. In addition to Moncada, hard-throwing right-hander Michael Kopech, a top-100 prospect, is the deal’s other big prize for Chicago. In all, the White Sox received three of the Red Sox’s top eight prospects, as rated by MLB.com.
The move marks the end of the White Sox’s long-held win-now approach that had been favored by chairman Jerry Reinsdorf but rarely successful since a World Series title in 2005. The White Sox have made the playoffs just once in the past 11 years — in 2008 — and haven’t finished with a winning record since 2012. They finished 78-84 in 2016.
“Given where we were as an organization entering this offseason, we knew were going to have to make some painful decisions,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said Tuesday afternoon in a press conference at the Winter Meetings in National Harbor, Md. “But if we had the opportunity to acquire some high-impact talent that would be around for a number of years, it would be time to start that process. So today was the first step in what will very likely be an extended process, one we feel that if we continue to acquire similar-type players with the upside of individuals we acquired today, it will be for the extended long-term benefit of the organization.”
The 27-year-old Sale had spent his entire seven-year professional career with the White Sox, and he’s been an All-Star each of the past five seasons. He was 17-10 with a 3.34 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 2016, when he finished fifth in the American League Cy Young voting. Sale has been in the top six of Cy Young voting for five straight seasons.
“We cannot thank Chris enough for all he has done and what he has meant for the White Sox organization since we drafted him in 2010,” Hahn said. “We certainly wish he and his family all the best.”
Because of Sale’s stature as one of the game’s best pitchers and his remarkably team-friendly deal — he’s under team control for around $38 million between 2017-’19 — the White Sox initially set a sky-high asking price for him. Perhaps they didn’t quite get that, but they got perhaps the game’s best prospect in Moncada and a lot of upside in Kopech.
“When you trade a pitcher of Chris Sale’s ability, it can only be because we were motivated by an impactful return of young talent, and we have more than accomplished that with Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz,” Hahn said. “We believe each of these players can be part of a quality core of future championship caliber White Sox teams.”
A switch-hitter, the 21-year-old Moncada is a consensus top-five prospect in the game and was rated No. 1 by Baseball America last July and No. 1 more recently by MLB.com. A native of Cuba, Moncada signed a $31.5 million deal with the Red Sox in February 2015. He hit .294 with 15 homers, 62 RBIs, 45 stolen bases and a .918 OPS in 106 games across two levels as he was named Baseball America’s Minor League Player of the Year. He had a brief call-up with the Red Sox, going 4-of-19 in eight games at the big league level.
“We view Moncada as a premium position player,” Hahn said.
The 20-year-old Kopech touches triple digits on the radar gun and blew hitters away in 2016 in the minors. He had a 2.08 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 13.7 strikeout/nine innings rate in 52 innings across two levels. He ended the season at high-Class A. The Red Sox drafted Kopech in the first round of the 2014 amateur draft.
Kopech was suspended for 50 games in July 2015 after testing positive for Oxilofrine, a stimulant that’s banned. He denied knowingly taking the illegal substance.
The White Sox also acquired 20-year-old outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and 22-year-old right-hander Victor Diaz, according to reports.
Basabe was the Red Sox’s eighth-ranked prospect, per MLB.com. He hit .264 with 12 homers, 52 RBIs and a .780 OPS in 110 games at two minor league levels in 2016. He finished the season at Class-A.
Diaz had a 3.88 ERA and 1.49 WHIP while striking out 63 batters in 60 1/3 innings at Class-A last season. He was the organization’s 28th-ranked prospect, per MLB.com.
Before agreeing to the deal with the Red Sox, the White Sox had serious discussions with the Nationals about Sale. That deal would’ve centered around right-hander Lucas Giolito and outfielder Victor Robles, a pair of top-15 prospects.
Hahn called Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski last Friday to inform him that the White Sox were dead set on trading Sale after the details of the new collective bargaining agreement had been hammered out without changing much of the calculus. They continued their dialogue throughout the weekend, into Monday and then Tuesday morning. They had discussed a trade of Sale as far back as a year ago, Hahn added.
Hahn indicated the White Sox won’t feel rushed to make other trades just because they’ve made the first blockbuster deal. Left-hander Jose Quintana, first baseman Jose Abreu, third baseman Todd Frazier, outfielder Adam Eaton and closer David Robertson are believed to be on the trade market too, but the White Sox want to “maximize their returns” and will thus be patient, Hahn said.
“We don’t view this as a quick fix,” Hahn said.
Sale’s exit was accelerated by an ugly incident on July 23, when in a fit of rage before his scheduled start he sliced up the team’s 1976 throwback uniforms, which were to worn in conjunction with an organizational promotion. Practically, Sale viewed the uniforms as uncomfortable. Philosophically, his actions provided a glimpse into a larger problem — he believed the White Sox valued business over winning.
Sale was sent home by management and suspended for five games. Upon returning, he acknowledged regret for not being on the mound for his teammates and fans but otherwise stood by his actions. Sale also threw then-manager Robin Ventura under the bus.
“Robin is the one who has to fight for us in that department,” Sale told MLB.com. “If the players don’t feel comfortable 100 percent about what we are doing to win the game, and we have an easy fix — it was as easy as hanging up another jersey and everyone was fine. For them to put business first over winning, that’s when I lost it.”
Sale also was at the center of a spring training controversy that drew national headlines. After White Sox executive vice president Kenny Williams told veteran designated hitter Adam LaRoche to cut down on the time his teenage son, Drake, spent around the clubhouse — leading to LaRoche’s retirement — Sale publicly blasted Williams.
“We got bald-faced lied to,’’ Sale said. “Kenny contradicted a few things he said.
“Somebody walked out of those doors the other day, and it was the wrong guy. Plain and simple.”
Sale’s outburst toward such a high-ranking organization official was of a nature rarely seen publicly in professional sports.
“This isn’t us rebelling against rules,” Sale said. “This is us rebelling against BS.”
Sale had a 3.00 ERA in his seven-year White Sox career. He’s the franchise’s single-season record holder for strikeouts, whiffing 274 batters in 2015.