Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Tuesday, December 06, 2016

To Land Chris Sale, the Red Sox Gave Up a Lot to Get a Lot

The Red Sox appear to have paid heavily in the trade that netted lefty Chris Sale. While the Red Sox did not give up any major league talent in the deal, they traded away three of their top-eight prospects in a single transaction.

Yoan Moncada is the top prospect in baseball, righty Michael Kopech was Boston’s No. 5-ranked prospect and outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe was ranked No. 8 in Boston’s farm system. Right-hander Victor Diaz was ranked No. 28.

We all know about Moncada, who is the center piece of this deal for the White Sox. Boston signed the 21-year out of Cuba in Feb. 2015 to a record-shattering $31.5 million signing bonus, which came with a 100 percent luxury tax for the club. Boston will continue to pay the remainder of that bonus even as Moncada joins the Chicago organization.

The infielder hit .294/.407/.511 with 15 home runs and 62 RBIs in 106 games between Class A Advanced Salem and Double-A Portland in 2016. But he looked overwhelmed in his brief September call up with Boston. Still, he possesses an alluring array of talents, including power and speed. To this point in his minor league career, Moncada has stolen 94 bases in 109 tries — a success rate of 86.2 percent.

But the Red Sox had a big problem projecting where exactly Moncada would fit on its big league roster. Moncada is a natural second baseman, but Dustin Pedroia is signed through 2021. The team leader and de facto captain is still playing at a very high level, as evidenced by his 2016 Rawlings Defensive Player of the Year award. Moreover, Pedroia has 10/5 rights and cannot be traded without his consent. In short, second base is Pedroia's for the next five years.

Meanwhile, third base did not seem to be an option for Moncada either. The Red Sox have Pablo Sandoval under contract for the next three seasons. Given his obesity, his 2016 shoulder surgery, his poor performance in 2015 and the $58 million that he is guaranteed through the 2019 season, the Red Sox likely own him for the duration, at least until he raises his trade value considerably.

With Andrew Benintendi (22 years), Jackie Bradley (26 years) and Mookie Betts (24 years) all young, in their prime and under team control for the next few years, there was no place in the Boston outfield for Moncada either.

Add in the fact that Red Sox’ minor league third baseman Rafael Devers is just a couple of years away from the majors, and that logjam will only worsen. The 20-year-old Devers was rated the No. 16 prospect in baseball by entering last season, and scouts call him “one of the most exciting young players in the system in years,” with All Star potential.

In essence, Moncada was a man without a position in Boston. That made him an expendable trade candidate, despite his enormous, raw talents.

The 20-year-old Kopech, who was Boston’s first-round pick in the 2014 Draft, went 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 12 starts between Class A Short-Season Lowell and Class A Advanced Salem this past season.

The consensus among scouts was that Kopech was the best pitching prospect in the Arizona Fall League this year. Kopech’s fastball registered in the upper 90s in Fall League action, which he led with a 11.6 strikeout rate per nine innings. The righty hit 100 mph five times during the AFL’s Fall Stars Game.

After trading away Anderson Espinosa in the deal for Drew Pomeranz last summer, Kopech was the best pitching prospect remaining in the Red Sox system. Boston has now dealt away its two best pitching prospects in the span of just five months. That will hurt in the long term and the club will need to restock.

If the Sox end up a perennial playoff club, due to its deep starting rotation and young, potent lineup, they won’t have good draft positions for the next few years. Let’s not forget that the Red Sox have not successfully developed a starting pitcher since Clay Buchholz, who debuted in 2007.

But winning is always the goal, and winning now is especially the goal in Boston.

As for Basabe, scouts say he has a plus arm, plus speed, surprising power and shows average-to-better potential in center field. Scouts believe he “will flash at least four average-or-better tools."

For his part, Diaz, a 22-year-old right-hander, has drawn rave reviews from scouts. “Great arm. Just electric stuff. He’s going to be worth keeping track of to see how he does as he moves up the ladder,” said one scout.

In order to get a pitcher of Sale’s caliber (four top-five Cy Young finishes), the Red Sox had to surrender a lot in return.

Sale has posted a collective 3.04 ERA with 10.0 K/9 against 2.0 BB/9 in 1,015 2/3 innings. He’s set to earn just $12 million next season, and the Red Sox will hold club options valued at $12.5 million and $13.5 million for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, respectively.

In total, the Red Sox just picked up three years of control of dominant starting pitcher, who will be just 28 on opening day, at a cost of only $38 million; that’s peanuts for a pitcher of Sale’s caliber. Expect him to be a perennial All Star and Cy Young candidate for the duration of his time in Boston.

Yes, he may be a bit nutty (he did, after all, get suspended for using scissors to destroy all of the throwback uniforms his Chicago teammates were expected to wear during a game last season), but he really wants to win.

In Boston, he will get that chance over the next three years, in a rotation that features Cy Young winner Rick Porcello, former Cy Young winner David Price, plus 2016 All Stars Steven Wright and Drew Pomeranz. All of them are under control for the next few years.

When you add in Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez, the Red Sox now have seven, proven major league starters. Expect another trade to address Boston’s search for a DH/first baseman.

The Red Sox are built to win not only in 2017, but in each of the next few years thereafter as well. This trade is an immediate win for Boston and may prove to be a long term win for Chicago.

Again, while the Red Sox appear to have given up a lot in return for Sale, as I always say, prospects are a gamble. You never truly know what you have until they prove it at the major league level.

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