Cleveland Indians Should Consider Trading For Chris Sale

While offense has been the main focus this offseason, the Cleveland Indians should strongly consider acquiring Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox.

While offense has been the hot topic of the offseason, the Cleveland Indians should seriously consider trading for Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox. The left-handed starter is reportedly on the block and could be dealt before the end of the Winter Meetings.

While most reports have the Washington Nationals as the front-runners (and possibly getting a deal done very soon), the Indians could make a huge statement by getting the left-handed ace.

What would it take to land Sale?

The short and the sweet of it, Chris Sale is not going to be cheap to acquire. He’s been one of the best pitchers in the game the last few years and finished in the top five in the American League Cy Young vote this season. He also has one of the better contracts for an ace, with three years left on his deal at just $38 million.

As things stand now, he’s the best player available in a trade and the best available pitcher period. The Nationals reportedly have a deal on the table for their top two prospects and a lower prospect according to Jim Bowden of ESPN while Ken Rosenthal confirms the Nationals and White Sox are talking about their two top prospects.

A deal headlined by pitcher Lucas Giolito and outfielder Victor Robles is a major blockbuster if it goes through. Baseball America ranked Giolito as the third best prospect in all of baseball this past summer in their midseason rankings while they ranked Robles as the 13th best. No matter what the other pieces in the possible deal, that’s a headline that most teams can’t touch, including the Cleveland Indians. However, where the Indians could make a deal is in the sheer depth they have.

In that same midseason prospect ranking, Baseball America listed five current Cleveland Indians farm hands in their top 100, including Bradley Zimmer (26th), Brady Aiken (59th), Bobby Bradley (64th), Francisco Mejia (70th), and Mike Clevinger (71st). Not on that list was pitcher Triston McKenzie, who was recently ranked as the Tribe’s third-best prospect behind only Mejia and Zimmer.

So while the Indians may not have a single top 20 prospect in baseball, they could conceivably have six top 100 prospects in all of baseball (if you still count Clevinger as a prospect), with at least three being top 50.

A package of Mejia, Zimmer, McKenzie, and Clevinger may not have quite the star power of a Giolito/Robles led deal, but it is a deal that will stop any general manager in his tracks. It includes arguably the best catching prospect in the game in Mejia, a potential five-tool outfielder in Zimmer, and a pair of right-handed starters with top of the rotation potential.

The Indians could also include a major league starter, possibly Trevor Bauer, who broke out in 2016 with a solid 2.7 fWAR season according to Fangraphs (second best among Tribe starters) and has four years of control left.

Would the Indians trade within the division?

In addition to coming up with the players to trade, one has to consider the added aspect of the trade being an intradivisional one. While getting a pitcher like Chris Sale would be huge, could the Indians really part with all those prospects knowing that in a couple of years (or less) they could be playing against all those players on a regular basis?

It’s one thing to trade a Drew Pomeranz to the Colorado Rockies for Ubaldo Jimenez when you will almost never have to face the Rockies. If Pomeranz became a star, he’s out of the division (and league) and thus not as big a threat to the Indians.  But with the White Sox, the Indians would be facing these guys 18 times a year.

Best rotation in baseball?

The reason the Indians could (should?) be open to breaking the bank with players for a guy like Chris Sale is that it would make a rotation that’s already arguably the best in baseball, the clear-cut best in baseball.

Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin is a very envious rotation, but Kluber, Sale, Carrasco, Salazar, and Bauer/Tomlin would allow the Indians to fill any offensive holes with more role players rather than focusing on acquiring a big bat like Edwin Encarnacion in free agency.

As everyone knows, the Indians don’t have unlimited funds. Their payroll for 2017 already looks to be the highest in team history without any additions (over $105 million). Chris Sale, meanwhile, is on a very team-friendly long-term contract as mentioned above, including a reasonable $12 million in 2017.

Money aside, the sheer dominance a rotation with Sale in it would be somewhat mind-boggling. Consider this, if Sale were added to the Cleveland rotation, the Indians would have four of the top 13 pitchers in FIP (fielding independent pitching) in the American League from 2016 (minimum 130 innings): Kluber (1st, 3.26 FIP), Sale (3rd, 3.46), Carrasco (12th, 3.72), and Salazar (13th, 3.74). Only the Boston Red Sox would have three in the top 20.

Will a trade happen?

While a blockbuster deal for Chris Sale would make the Indians the clear front-runners in the American League (and possibly all of baseball), it’s more of a dream at this point. The Indians simply don’t have the need in the rotation that some other teams have to make such a mega-deal, plus intradivisional trades of this magnitude are very tough to make.

The Indians have shown the ability to deal prospects in recent years, however, making big moves to acquire Ubaldo Jimenez and Andrew Miller, plus nearly acquiring Jonathon Lucroy. So is a Sale trade impossible? No, absolutely not. The Indians aren’t loaded with cash to spend this winter but Sale would be the type of player that fits into just about any budget. He’s young and controllable, which is what the Indians have targeted in the past.

So while Sale is much more likely to end up in a place like Washington or even Boston, the Cleveland Indians shouldn’t limit themselves to offense and should take a long, hard look at the Pale Hose Ace.

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