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White Sox Begin Rebuilding With a Bang

The South Siders just traded star pitcher Chris Sale for one of baseball’s top prospects.

Don’t call it a fire sale.   Photo: Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune

The Cubs ended one of the longest droughts in baseball this year. Today the White Sox ended a much shorter but seemingly endless one: when will they stop reloading and rebuild?

And it couldn’t be more definitive. They traded Chris Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, and two more prospects—numbers one, five, eight, and 28 in the Red Sox’s farm system (via Dan Hayes).

There’s not much to be said about Sale that you don’t know. He’s one of the best pitchers in baseball. Christopher Kamka noted a couple amazing statistics: only Sale and Max Scherzer have struck out at least 200 batters in the past four years, and Sale’s strikeout to walk ratio (minimum 1,000 innings) is the best in baseball since 1893, and it’s not even close. He’s just 27 years old.

And he’s on an incredibly good contract: he’s set to make $12 million in 2017, with team options for $12.5 million in 2018 and $13.5 million in 2019, his age-30 year. For comparison: $12.5 million is what 43-year-old Bartolo Colon signed for this offseason.

Sale did drop off a bit last year. His strikeout rate fell from 12 per nine innings to nine per nine, but Jeff Sullivan makes a good case that pitch framing is the likely culprit. The Red Sox know what they’re getting: a 5+ win player on one of the best contracts in baseball, and locked up for one of its best teams to compete for the next three years.

The White Sox had to get a lot for that—and they did. Fangraphs’s Dave Cameron called them the two main pieces this summer: Moncada, then the best or second-best prospect in baseball depending on your source, and Kopech, who threw at a reported 105 miles per hour (though other scouts said it was around 100) with my hometown Salem Red Sox this summer. “Toss in some sweeteners on top of that, and the White Sox would at least have to think about it, as Moncada and Kopech could give them a pretty great return,” Cameron wrote. That’s literally what happened today.

How good is Moncada? MLB.com’s Jim Callis described him as “Robinson Cano with more speed.” Eric Longenhagen described him as “basically in-his-prime Ian Kinsler, except faster… a perennial All-Star and a potential MVP type of talent, with tools so deafeningly loud that it may be awhile before we hear the echoes of his historical significance.”

By Moncada’s “historical significance,” Longenhagen is referencing the fact that Moncada’s immense $31.5 million-dollar free agent bonus—plus the tax on top of it that the Red Sox had to pay, amounting to over $60 million in total—signed when he was 19, looked at the time like it would lead to the creation of an international draft to even the financial playing field between international and American prospects. That didn’t happen with the most recent collective-bargaining agreement, but the hard cap placed on international free agents was likely inspired in part by Moncada’s bonus. That’s how good the Red Sox thought Moncada would be, and it’s worth keeping in mind that bonus when evaluating the trade.

He strikes out too much (31 percent in 207 at-bats in AA, 21 percent in 284 at-bats in A+, 23 percent in 363 in single-A), but also walks a lot (over 10 percent at every stop). His ratios aren’t that different from Kris Bryant at similar levels. And Moncada, had he come up through the draft, likely would have been a number-one pick. He could be an anchor for the Sox for a long time.

Kopech is the next big piece. He throws very hard; last month, Paul Sporer wrote that “the arm is intriguing enough to be the primary prospect in a blockbuster deal.” Jeffrey Paternostro of Baseball Prospectus likes him as a fastball-slider closer or setup man with borderline All-Star potential, though he started all 11 games that he pitched in high-A this year, and that’s what the Red Sox had planned for him next year. Jon Heyman reports that one team had him valued equally to Moncada. He’s dating a reality-TV star. He has Noah Syndergaard’s velocity, and his hair. He’ll be fun to watch.

And that’s just one trade. NEIFI Analytics calculates that the White Sox jumped from the 25th best farm system to the 15th best, and with Sale gone, it seems likely that the Sox could trade, well, almost anyone else on the team, and that’s certainly what they’re floating.

Sale is an immense loss for White Sox fans, as one of the most fun pitchers to watch in baseball. But the Sox have been grinding it out with underwhelming teams without a playoff appearance in eight years. With Boston, Sale gets a shot at a World Series; Sox fans get a shot at something like what the Cubs have done. They’ll be worse for a while, and then they’ll be more interesting. Now we just have to wait for the Bears.

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