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Red Sox rotation struggles make trading for Chris Sale difficult

The Red Sox would love to add Chris Sale to their team, but find themselves in an unusual situation: the two struggling starters they would want to upgrade on are too valuable to give away for free, and very difficult to move for value.

Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

With the trade deadline one week away, the biggest saga going by far is that of Chris Sale. And not just because he cut up a bunch of uniforms like a crazy person. After the baseball world spent much of the spring believing the pitching market wouldn't provide any top-tier talents at the deadline, the White Sox rapidly fell out of contention and into a selling role, suddenly making the possibility of a Sale trade very real indeed.

This saga has not excluded the Red Sox even after they went ahead and set the market by trading for Drew Pomeranz. However, the simple fact that the Red Sox are interested and calling certainly doesn't mean they're guaranteed or, frankly, even likely to make a move for the five-time All-Star. And if you really think about it, there's a pretty obvious hurdle in the way: rotation space.

Now, don't get me wrong, if the Red Sox trade for Sale, they'll make room. The question is how. The Sox have Steven Wright, David Price, Rick Porcello, Drew Pomeranz, and Eduardo Rodriguez all under team control for at least the next two years. Of those five, Price and Rodriguez are the two whose 2016 performances the Red Sox would happy to replace.

Price they're pretty much stuck with at this point. No team was willing to outbid the Red Sox over the offseason, and if they weren't willing to match them then, they certainly won't be willing to offer the same deal now that Price has four extremely disappointing months in the books. But of course between his track record, peripherals, and the investment they made, there's simply no chance that the Sox take him out of the rotation, this year or next. He's as much of a lock as anyone else, even if his performance hasn't really earned it..

That leaves Rodriguez, and he would pretty much have to be the key if the Sox get involved for Sale, which is what makes such a deal so difficult. Rodriguez is an impressive young lefty with two more years of team control than Sale that will cost whatever team has him a lot less than Sale. He makes for a great base for a Sale trade because he at once gives Chicago a longer-term "replacement" for Sale and frees up the spot for Sale in Boston's rotation. Obviously this isn't a 1-for-1 deal. Sale is better and more valuable than Rodriguez. But unless the Sox are going to stick Rodriguez in the minors and try to find a trade partner in the offseason to recoup some of their (presumably huge) losses from a potential Sale trade that does not involve Rodriguez, they kind of need him to act as the base to any such deal.

And there's an obvious problem there, which is that Rodriguez has a 6.70 ERA in a season that to this point has blost to injury. To make a long story short, good luck getting proper value there, Red Sox.

There's no ruling out Dave Dombrowski going crazy and offering up the entire farm system for Sale, value be damned. But if we're taking a more rational approach to this, it's very hard to properly match these sides up. Sale, to the Red Sox, represents the difference between himself and Rodriguez in the rotation. Unless the Red Sox are completely sold that Rodriguez is actually awful (unlikely) or the White Sox are willing to give them full credit on Rodriguez based on his 2015 performance.(also unlikely), then the Sox will either be left holding onto Rodriguez and paying out a king's ransom for the privilege of making the talented young lefty obsolete, or they'll be selling him for dimes on the dollar and still sending along most of said ransom besides.

It's true that if the Red Sox can add Sale without trading away any of the guys currently on their 25-man roster besides Rodriguez, they'll find themselves the favorites in the American League, at least for now. But it's also true that they're already in that conversation when healthy, which they very much hope to be by the time October rolls around, and that no addition will hugely change their chances of taking home a World Series. We're not talking about taking a 1-in-20 shot and making it a coin flip. We're talking about going from 10% to 13% or something like that. It's an increase worth pursuing, yes, but not to the point where it starts making it significantly harder to reach the postseason in years to come, and you don't have to go far into the future to find a season where the Red Sox would likely prove better off having kept Benintendi and Moncada which, in case you weren't sure, is pretty much the baseline for a deal like this.

There was a time when this deal would've made more sense for the Red Sox, but that was before they traded Andreson Espinoza for Drew Pomeranz. But the White Sox were still over .500 at that point, and not willing to admit defeat. Now that they are, the Red Sox find themselves with a more stable rotation, a fifth pitcher who's taken some encouraging steps forward, and yes, one less top talent to provide them a cushion for dealing from their prospect depth.

At the end of the day, though, even had they known Sale would hit the market, the Red Sox still may have preferred the route they chose. It leaves them with both one of the best rosters in the majors, and one of the best systems in the minors. Healthy both in the short- and long-term (if not physically). No this may not be the way to go all-in on David Ortiz' final season but...they don't really need to do that given all those rings he's already got.