The Boston Red Sox offseason has begun, and most rumors center around the team’s depleted pitching staff. After General Manager Ben Cherington dealt away four of the team’s top five starting pitchers at or before the July 31 trade deadline, Boston spent the rest of the season auditioning a group of prospects, with mixed results.
While most Red Sox rumors involve either the supposed return of Jon Lester via free agency, or the acquisition of Phillies’ ace Cole Hamels through a blockbuster trade, there is another possible acquisition on the Boston radar — another certified ace lefty who could anchor the Red Sox rotation.
In fact, this pitcher was arguably the best lefty in baseball in 2014, though he didn’t receive anywhere near the publicity of a Lester or a Hamels. His ERA+ (an adjusted metric that measures a pitcher’s performance against the rest of the league) of 174 led the American League, while he allowed a WHIP (Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched) of under 1.0 and struck out almost 11 batters per nine innings.
But what would it take to pry 6’6″ southpaw Chris Sale from the White Sox? Sale’s contract keeps him under team control through 2017 at a bargain-basement average price of just over $9 million per year — exactly the type of contract to make the Boston front office salivate. And at age 26 when the 2015 season opens, the Red Sox would be obtaining a front-line pitcher just moving into the best years of his career.
Sale’s contract comes complete with team options for 2018 and 2019, meaning that whatever team has his services could keep a superstar pitcher on the roster through the age of 30, his true prime.
The White Sox have two options with Sale following the team’s dismal 73-89 finish this year. They can hold on to Sale and focus their rebuilding efforts around him. Or they can trade him — a move that has been rumored at least since the 2013 offseason — for a crop of prospects that could serve as the White Sox foundation for years.
Few teams are as prospect-rich as the Red Sox — but they have at least one asset that the White Sox need, desperately. Namely — catching.
Tyler Flowers was a bust for the White Sox in 2014 behind the plate, and at age 28 he is unlikely to show much improvement. But the Boston Red Sox have young catching talent to spare, even though catching prospects are perhaps even more sought-after that young pitching arms.
The Red Sox were delighted with the way Christian Vasquez adapted to the Major League level this season and have pegged him as their catcher of the future. But Vasquez would also fill a gaping hole for the White Sox and could top a package that would bring Chris Sale to Boston. With a second prime catching prospect, Blake Swihart, in their system — a prospect they believe to be even more promising than Vasquez, and who has earned comparisons to Buster Posey — putting together a Sale trade may be almost painless for Boston.
Of course, in 22-year-old Henry Owens down at Triple-A Pawtucket, the Red Sox have one of the best lefty pitching prospects in baseball waiting in the wings as well. Could Owens being packaged by Boston in a deal for Chris Sale, too, before this offseason is over?
Would a trade package topped by Vasquez and Owens be enough for the the Boston Red Sox to bring Chris Sale from Chicago to Fenway Park? Expect the rumors to heat up once the World Series has finished and the offseason officially gets underway.