A funny thing happened on the way to me putting together a sentimental retrospective about getting to watch the beginning of Chris Sale‘s career: the White Sox knocked away my focus with their massive Adam Eaton trade. The second shocking blockbuster vaulted the Sox’ still growing farm system into the top-10 in baseball, before they have sold even half of their tradeable assets or underwent any of the drafts where they will surely be picking near the top of for the next two years
The Eaton trade is what makes this week a winner for the White Sox. Rumors had been circling around Sale for weeks, and his departure seemed inevitable once it was clear the Sox would not be pushing for a winner in 2017. Moreover, Sale did not preclude the White Sox from a limited teardown; an attempt to fence their most valuable trade chip for major league-ready prospects to win alongside the rest of their core, possibly as soon as 2018. While maybe that approach would hold some appeal over being aggressively terrible on the major league level for at least two seasons, it would require the same ultra-precision in all their moves, something that has eluded the Sox in their median-budget bids to compete the last two years.
Under that guise, taking Yoan Moncada, and his high strikeout rate, and Michael Kopech, and his likely relief trajectory, would be worrisome and risky selections, even if their high ceilings made them good prospect value for Sale. That the Sox reportedly turned aside a package from Washington centered around the more contact-oriented Victor Robles only heightened anxiety about some of the odds these new prospects face.
But all those concerns were wiped away by second rich crop from the Eaton deal. First, it indicated a larger, more aggressive rebuild, one that would take advantage of the Sox’ position as uniquely loaded sellers. Second, the White Sox were immediately credited with pulling off a heist against the Nationals, as a package of right-handers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Dane Dunning was only a small step down from the offer they got from for Sale. It’s not as though the value they received for Sale was bad, it’s just that it’s hard to calibrate what would be an overpay for one of the most valuable players ever dealt in recent memory, and any suitor was hard-pressed to meet the Sox asking price. Eaton’s deal provided the first hard confirmation that the Sox will actually benefit from the seller’s market that was anticipated
Finally, the Eaton deal makes the Sale return look better. Taking chances on high-ceiling, risky prospects is welcome during a high-volume rebuild where there will be plenty of other options if one or two, or even five guys don’t reach their potential. Kopech is a fun arm to watch if you don’t need to worry about the team falling apart if he doesn’t throw 200 innings in a couple years, Moncada staying strikeout-prone is only a tragedy if he’s the only offensive upgrade coming. A full-tilt rebuild allows the Sox to stack value without worrying about immediate fits, and it’s frankly a little liberating.
This was always going to be the easiest time for accepting the reality of a rebuild; when deals are being made and new shiny prospects are being added. The grueling reality will set in, probably some time in Spring Training, that the major league product will lag at the back of the pack for a long time. But the Sox have jumped in and provided a compelling vision for the future, a bevy of young talent to be excited about even while the major league roster is used as a clearinghouse for fringe-level guys who wouldn’t get chances to play for teams that are trying to win now; which might actually wind up being fun in its own way, if you don’t look at the scoreboard.
I didn’t agree with the decision for the White Sox to sell. I still believe it will be difficult for them to surpass the talent level of their previous core, and that being willing to expand into the top-third in the league in payroll will likely be necessary during their next contention window. But this is the plan now, and there’s a lot of confidence to be taken out of how well it’s being executed.
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