Morosi: Arms for Sale? White Sox primed to shop young lefties

The Chicago White Sox are coming off a last-place finish in the American League Central. They are five years removed from their most recent playoff appearance. The Oakland A’s, who play at Sewage Stadium, outdrew them in 2013.

Suffice it to say, the White Sox haven’t captured the baseball world’s attention often since Ozzie Guillen left town.

That could change at this week’s winter meetings.

Many teams remain in the market for starting pitching, and White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has three marketable left-handers on his roster: Chris Sale, Jose Quintana and Hector Santiago. The White Sox are open to discussing trade proposals for all three, sources told FOX Sports 1, although the team is more willing to trade Santiago than Sale or Quintana. (Santiago hasn’t been a fulltime starter; he pitched out of the bullpen for stretches in each of the past two seasons.)

Unlike the Rays with David Price, Hahn faces no contractual pressure to move any of the three. Santiago is on track to become a free agent after the 2017 season, Quintana after 2018. Sale has a long-term contract that includes club options for the ’18 and ’19 seasons.

If anything, those years of control — at reasonable salaries — could make the Chicago lefties more appealing when compared to other alternatives. Oakland’s Brett Anderson, with two years of club control remaining, has been mentioned as a trade candidate this offseason. But Anderson threw only 163 innings over the past three seasons because injuries. Sale (214-1/3) and Quintana (200) surpassed that in 2013 alone, with Santiago (149) not far behind.

Hahn could demand far more in prospects for Sale than Tampa Bay GM Andrew Friedman can for Price. For one thing, Sale is younger. Sale also has thrown more innings than Price over the past two seasons with a better ERA+ and higher Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs.com. Between two statistically similar pitchers, six years of Sale is decidedly more valuable than two of Price.

Why should Hahn trade Sale now? A few reasons:

• It isn’t every offseason that a general manager can start a negotiation by saying, “Chris Sale was the best left-handed starter in baseball (not named Clayton Kershaw) over the past two seasons. And you can have him for the next six seasons at a little more than $55 million — total.”

• The class of free-agent pitchers isn’t especially strong — and will be weakened further if Masahiro Tanaka remains in Japan.

• The White Sox are in the early stages of an extensive rebuild and need young position players with power. They scored the fewest runs of any American League team this year despite playing at what has been one of baseball’s most homer-friendly ballparks. It would be wise to trade Sale’s prime years for multiple long-term assets that would augment a thin farm system (ranked 29th among 30 clubs by Baseball America when the season began).

• Hahn could trade one starter — even Sale — and put together a respectable rotation for 2014. The White Sox finished near the middle of the majors in starters’ ERA this year, with encouraging late-season auditions by right-handers Andre Rienzo and Erik Johnson. A trade would help the White Sox balance their rotation, which projects to include four lefties, as long as veteran John Danks remains healthy.

A few more notes to begin the week:

• The Rangers and Mariners are popular guesses as to the question of Price’s landing spot, but don’t overlook the Cleveland Indians.

The Indians are one excellent starter away from mounting a serious challenge to the Tigers in the AL Central. But they don’t want to pay the going rate in free agency, so the trade market is a more plausible route.

The following is speculation on my part: The Indians’ package could center on Carlos Santana, who brings the power/patience combination the Rays would love and is under club control through 2017 on a team-friendly contract. Derek Shelton, the Rays’ respected hitting coach, held the same position in Cleveland while Santana was a minor leaguer there.

The Rays haven’t been able to re-sign James Loney. They need a first baseman and designated hitter; Santana could fill either role. He’s somewhat expendable in Cleveland because Yan Gomes has supplanted him as the everyday catcher and Nick Swisher is the primary first baseman.

• For all the fascination with the Yankees’ latest free-agent splurge, this could be their rotation if the season began today: CC Sabathia (coming off a career-worst 4.78 ERA); Hiroki Kuroda (reliably excellent, but turns 39 in February); Ivan Nova (finished strong, but threw only 139-1/3 innings this year); David Phelps (better as a reliever); and possibly Michael Pineda (zero major league innings since 2011).

Time to hire some starting pitchers with the Robinson Cano savings.

• I love adopting surprise teams every baseball season. Of course, I’m usually wrong. The Royals were my team in 2013. I picked them to win the AL Central. They were vastly improved but finished third. I whiffed again.

I’ve got some time before Opening Day, but I’m leaning toward the Colorado Rockies as my team in ’14. I’d like them even better if they had a closer (Grant Balfour?) and ace pitcher (Ervin Santana?), but they’re a move or two from contention in the National League West.

Jhoulys Chacin, Jorge De La Rosa and Tyler Chatwood are coming off good seasons — and we can’t say that too often about a group of starting pitchers at Coors Field. If the Rockies spend on Balfour, Santana or other free agents of that caliber, the Dodgers will have to take notice.

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