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His face said it all. The beaming smile was one of a man who looked as though his first child had just been born. Or maybe he had just closed a deal for his dream home.
Chris Sale was free at last. His image on social media Tuesday with five buddies, including his college baseball coach, appeared to be one of relief, of a young guy full of future aspirations and more than ready to leave throwback uniforms and children in the clubhouse in arrears.
The color of Sale's socks will turn red from white, and with it he joins a band of athletes who won 93 games last season compared to the local group's 78. He joins a rotation that includes two Cy Young Award winners, Rick Porcello last season and David Price (2012). His new team scored more runs than any club in baseball last season and almost 200 more than his old team.
Before investigating the now-clear White Sox direction and the four young players Rick Hahn received in exchange for Sale, let's consider a few factors that made the Red Sox the winner of the Sale bidding.
General manager David Dombrowski, who got his start here in Chicago and learned the trade as Roland Hemond's assistant, no doubt was well aware of Sale's effectiveness against the East Division of the American League. In his seven-year career with the White Sox, Sale registered a 14-9 record against Boston's division foes, the Blue Jays, Orioles, Yankees, and Rays. In 186 innings, his ERA was 2.61. He struck out more than 10 hitters per nine innings while walking slightly less than three.
Compare that to how Sale fared against his own Central Division, and you have yet another reason for his overt elation. Sale has pitched well against just about everyone, accounting for his 74-50 lifetime record. However, he went just 30-30 in the Central Division, where his ERA was 3.50.
There was a time when Fenway Park was supposed to be a hellhole for left-handed pitchers. Facing a lineup of primarily right-handed hitters, flyballs which would be outs in most parks tended to clear the Green Monster or clang off it for singles and doubles.
But, again, in six games at Fenway in his career, Sale hasn't allowed a home run against a potent Red Sox team, while splitting two decisions, striking out a hitter an inning, and walking just four in 22-plus innings.
He joins other lefties who have had success at Fenway. Start with Babe Ruth, who went 49-19 in the venerable ballpark between 1914 and 1919. Jon Lester wasn't too shabby at Fenway during his nine years there. In 115 games, Lester's record was 51-30 with a 3.59 ERA. And last season Price was 9-3 pitching at home.
Sale is pretty much fearless. Having the left field corner 25 feet closer than it is at the ballpark formerly known as The Cell won't bother him. After all, the sucker is 37 feet high.
So we bid adieu to one of the greatest pitchers in Sox history. No more K Zone. No more nasty sliders and a devastating change-up. Gone is the Cy Young watch. No more bickering with the front office. No more national exposure over destroyed uniforms that flow over beltlines.
Instead, we enter the Rebuild Era. Only Carlos Rodon and Tim Anderson are untouchable. As you read this, Hahn is deep into conversations aimed at dealing talent like Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, Jose Abreu, and Todd Frazier. Nate Jones and David Robertson conceivably could wind up closing for teams far from the South Side.
Hahn clearly is going all-in starting with the Sale trade. The Sox now have Yoan Moncada, the top prospect in all of baseball, according to MLB Pipeline. Not just the top Red Sox prospect. No, he's rated ahead of every doggone prospect in the game.
Moncada, a Cuban, was paid more than $31 million to sign in early 2015. The White Sox had more than a passing interest at that time with a track record of signing Cubans like Alexei Ramirez and Abreu, but Moncada was unaffordable. Now he is.
Often compared to Robinson Cano, Moncada has primarily played second base. He's a big kid: 6-foot-2, 205 pounds. He turns 22 in May. He's a switch-hitter with power and speed - he stole 45 bases and clubbed 15 homers in 106 minor-league games last season. Moncada was voted the MVP last July at the Futures Game in San Diego.
However, for a sobering tidbit, MLB Pipeline writes, "The most-hyped teenaged prospect to come out of Cuba since Jorge Soler." Oh, golly, let's hope for more. In addition, when Dustin Pedroia was hurt last September, Moncada played for 10 days in Boston without much success. He struck out 12 times in 20 plate appearances.
All of which is why Moncada will begin 2017 at Charlotte.
Then there's left-handed pitcher Michael Kopech, a 20-year-old Texan who was a first-round draft choice (33rd overall) in 2014. He's a top 100 prospect (presently No. 30 on Pipeline) on just about everyone's list. The kid's Chapman-like fastball has been clocked as high as 105. In 134-plus innings in the minors, he's struck out an average of 11.5 hitters per nine innings while walking 4.6.
In the Arizona Fall League the kid was outstanding, posting a 3-0 record with a 2.01 ERA. He fanned 26 in 22-plus innings and walked only eight.
Not only that, but Kopech has some Chris Sale in him, if not Rajon Rondo. He missed three months last season with a broken hand, the result of a spring training fight with a teammate. He also was suspended for 50 games in 2015 for using a banned stimulant. Look for Kopech to pitch at Winston-Salem or possibly Birmingham when the 2017 season begins.
The White Sox also landed Venezuelan outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe. Why the middle name? Because his twin brother Luis Alejandro Basabe also was in the Boston organization until he was traded to the Diamondbacks last July. However, our new Basabe is rated a much stronger prospect than his brother.
A switch-hitting speedster who swiped 25 bases in 30 attempts last season in A-ball, Basabe won't be of legal drinking age until August. The kid strikes out too much, but he has a .353 OBP in four minor league seasons.
The fourth player coming over in the Sale trade is 21-year-old relief pitcher Victor Diaz, a Dominican, who throws hard having struck out slight more than a hitter per inning in Single-A. "As fourth pieces in a deal go, Diaz is a pretty good one," according to Baseball Prospectus.
Where to from here? The only certainty is that Hahn is far from finished wheeling and dealing. No one has the slightest idea what the lineup will look like when the Sox open the season on April 3 at home against the Tigers.
There is another unrefutable fact. A ticket for Opening Day will be a lot less than a similar item at the other ballpark in town.
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Posted on Mar 16, 2018