You might love the Red Sox’ trade for Chris Sale. You might hate it. One way or another, though, it has to be said that if the Red Sox were going to trade for Chris Sale, this was the one to make.
Putting aside, for the moment, any nonsense deals—Rusney Castillo for Chris Sale, anyone?—there were a number of directions the Red Sox could have gone here. Yoan Moncada was ultimately the centerpiece of the deal. That easily might have been Andrew Benintendi, however. Or a duo of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Eduardo Rodriguez. These, after all, were the names we saw pop up earlier in 2016 when the Sox were in pursuit of Sale at the deadline.
When making any move in baseball, you should have a goal in mind. And ideally those goals should be consistent within the same time frame. At its most basic level, this is the concept of “buyer” or “seller”. It’s a bit more complicated than that, with windows of various sizes involved at different points down the line, but the obvious short story is that teams that buy should not sell in the same breath.
This is a concept I hit on earlier today in warning against a Chris Sale trade. Had the Red Sox traded Jackie Bradley Jr. for Chris Sale, they would likely have been getting marginally better. Eduardo Rodriguez for Chris Sale? A bit better still, but not likely quite as major an upgrade as Rodriguez’ 2016 numbers would suggest. Andrew Benintendi? I think at this point expecting Benintendi to beat Bradley’s 5-win season of 2016 is a bit much, but you can certainly put him on par with Rodriguez in terms of giving away value to get it back.
When things get really ugly is when you put any two of those guys in the deal, which is the sort of thing we heard about back in July. Sometimes all three were said to be in the mix. Suddenly you’re looking at the double whammy of sacrificing the future in order to sacrifice the present. I expect I don’t need to tell you that this is a bad idea.
The Red Sox, however, traded none of those players. They did not trade Blake Swihart, either. If you were to list out every player who seemed likely to see playing time in 2017, that list would be down all of one man today in Yoan Moncada, and while Yoan Moncada is going to be very good indeed, but it’s still not entirely clear if he’s even going to be ready in 2017. Mid-year was not an unreasonable timetable for him, but it did rely on Moncada starting the year in Triple-A, hitting the ground running, and showing real improvement in the strikeout issues that followed him to Boston last year. Given that Moncada won’t turn 22 until the season is two months old, it wouldn’t even be unreasonable for him to wait until 2018 to make an impact. He’d still be on a reasonable pace—even ahead of schedule for a typical prospect.
(This is what the White Sox will almost certainly say as they keep him in Triple-A and avoid using up service time, whether he’s earned the promotion or not.)
Kopech? Maybe he’d have an outside shot in 2017 as a late-season reliever, but he, too, is certainly more a 2018 player than a 2017 player.
And, of course, with both of them comes some uncertainty. Any statement about any player who has not succeeded in the majors yet comes with an asterisk. That’s true back there where I said “Yoan Moncada is going to be very good indeed” even if it’s not actually there. Prospects will always be higher risk than established major leaguers.
Certainly, it could be argued that Andrew Benintendi and Blake Swihart are still more prospect than major leaguers depending on how you view their experiences thus far in the majors. Personally, I think Benintendi was awfully convincing and Swihart has already shown enough for me to be happy with him as a catcher even if his bat doesn’t climb much. For Eduardo Rodriguez and Jackie Bradley Jr., though, I don’t think things even need to be taken on faith anymore. Even if you give him no credit for how his injury was handled, Rodriguez now has 228 innings of 104 ERA+ baseball (4% above league average) while Jackie Bradley Jr. has accrued 7.3 fWAR over the last two seasons. That’s top-20 among outfielders over that period while spending almost the entire first half of 2015 in the minors.
If you accept that the Red Sox weren’t going to land Chris Sale without trading some of their biggest assets (that much seems obvious), then this package is at least one that’s aimed at a specific goal. The Red Sox will be good now. They will be good for the next three years. What happens after that is uncertain—they do still have a strong young core and a few prospects of note—but that’s better than having both an uncertain future and not actually taking any real step forward in the present. If you can argue they traded too much in the future for too little in the present, at the very least there is clearly some frame in which the Red Sox should be better for having made this trade.