6 ‘can’t-touch’ players that could be the key to a Chris Sale trade
“Can’t do that.”
That’s the phrase baseball people often use when confronted with the possibility of trading a top young player. Can’t do that. Won’t do that. Don’t even go there.
The availability of White Sox left-hander Chris Sale, however, creates a different landscape — or at least, it should.
Rarely, if ever, have we seen a pitcher obtainable under circumstances like this.
Sale, 27, is not simply one of the game’s top aces. He also is under club control for three more years — and priced well below market value at less than $13 million per season.
The White Sox, then, are justified in setting an exceedingly high bar for Sale, and should not settle for less when they start hearing the proverbial “can’t do that” from one team after another.
One interested GM, while saying Sunday that the White Sox want a return that is “through the roof,” acknowledged that the team’s position is not inappropriate due to Sale’s extraordinary value.
Rival executives predictably — wishfully? — say that the White Sox likely will be unable to land a “can’t-do-that” player. In their view, a more realistic goal for general manager Rick Hahn would be a haul of five or six top prospects that would broaden the franchise’s talent base and potentially create greater impact than a package driven by one future star.
Maybe. But part of Hahn’s rationale when he chose not to trade Sale before the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline was that interested teams would be more willing to trade major-league pieces if the White Sox waited until the offseason.
Now that the offseason is upon us, Hahn is supposed to back down? Not happening. Shouldn’t happen. Some clubs, despite their “can’t-do-that” protestations, are deep enough to part with the carrying piece that Hahn would want — and more.
If Hahn ends up with more of a “depth” trade, so be it; such deals certainly can work. Exhibit A is the exchange the Rangers made with the Braves for first baseman Mark Teixeira and reliever Ron Mahay in 2007, acquiring three future All-Stars — shortstop Elvis Andrus, reliever Neftali Feliz and left-hander Matt Harrison — plus catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia and pitcher Beau Jones.
Of course, such deals also can backfire: Three teams traded lefty Cliff Lee between July 2009 and July 2010, and righty Carlos Carrasco proved the best of the 10 players acquired in return — and still needed more than five years to establish himself as one of the better starters in the game.
The belief here is that the White Sox should wait no longer to trade Sale, but that Hahn needs at least one sure thing, and that his affordable, controllable version of Randy Johnson warrants such a price.
Let’s take a look at six teams interested in Sale, a player from each that would draw the instinctive “can’t-do-that” response, and the actual chances of such deals happening.
Red Sox: Andrew Benintendi
Lest anyone forget, the Red Sox possess one of the game’s best young cores in part because they refused to send outfielder Mookie Betts or shortstop Xander Bogaerts to the Phillies for lefty Cole Hamels in July 2015.
The circumstances are different now.
If the Sox traded Benintendi, they still would be left with Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. in the outfield, and the ability to spend on a free agent in the other spot. (They also could substitute Yoan Moncada for Benintendi, and wait for Rafael Devers as the long-term solution at third base).
Dave Dombrowski, the Sox’s president of baseball operations, never has been afraid to trade prospects. The Sox’s John Henry, though, is a different type of owner than the Tigers’ Mike Ilitch, seeing more value in young talent.
Henry’s approval wouldn’t necessarily be automatic, even with the potential to build a rotation fronted by Sale, David Price and AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello.
Rangers: Rougned Odor
Keep in mind: The Rangers have parted with significant prospects at the past two trade deadlines — first for Hamels, then for catcher Jonathan Lucroy and reliever Jeremy Jeffress and outfielder/DH Carlos Beltran.
Odor, ahem, hit 33 homers and produced a .798 OPS in his age 22 season. Jurickson Profar, though, could be a ready-made replacement, while Double A second baseman Andy Ibanez — the Rangers’ No. 2 prospect according to MLBPipeline.com — could be ready by 2018.
Right-hander Yu Darvish is entering his free-agent year. And even with him, the Rangers are short in their rotation.
Dodgers: Julio Urias
Yep, Urias is likely a deal-breaker. He’s only 20, possesses Sale-like potential and, as a homegrown Mexican left-hander, profiles as the logical heir to Fernando Valenzuela, a potential mega-star in Los Angeles.
The Dodgers surely would prefer to part with righty Jose DeLeon, and maybe a package that also included first baseman Cody Bellinger and/or outfielder Alex Verdugo would be rich enough for the White Sox.
On the other hand, if the White Sox went forward with a top four of Urias, fellow left-handers Jose Quintana and Carlos Rodon and righty Carson Fulmer, they might not be down for long.
Nationals: Trea Turner
Here is an example of a player who cannot be reproduced internally by his team.
Turner, whether he ends up in shortstop or center field, would have been NL Rookie of the Year last season if not for Corey Seager. He might even have overtaken Seager if he had made his debut before July 8; in 73 games, Turner stole 33 bases and produced 35 extra-base hits.
It’s virtually impossible to imagine the Nationals parting with Turner, but they could entice the White Sox with others from their deep, talented system. Start with right-handers Reynaldo Lopez and Erick Fedde and outfielder Victor Robles, and take it from there.
Astros: Alex Bregman
Astros second baseman Jose Altuve predicts Bregman will get 200 hits next season. Shortstop Carlos Correa says Bregman has one of the best swings he has ever seen. Such praise is understandable for a player who rebounded strongly from a 1-for-34 start to his career.
Trading Bregman would force the Astros to play Yuli Gurriel at third, creating a hole at first. The Astros, like the other teams on this list, might simply prefer to trade other prospects for one of the Rays’ starters. Even a Chris Archer could be had for considerably less for Sale; Jake Odorizzi and Drew Smyly, for even less than that.
Braves: Dansby Swanson
The Braves probably wouldn’t do it; nor should they — Swanson, who had a strong debut last season, could be their shortstop for the next 10 years. The White Sox also would want young pitching in any deal, and the Braves would be ill-advised to go from zero to 100 in their rebuilding program.
Second baseman Ozzie Albies perhaps would be a more sensible centerpiece from the Braves’ perspective, but maybe not the White Sox’s. Albies also could play short if the Braves moved Swanson, but again, the whole thing just smacks of too much, too soon.
Better the Braves should determine what they actually have first.