Chris Sale may actually be traded, if reports are to be believed, and if it happens I will be the first to eat my words and say I was wrong. I truly did not believe the White Sox would go into full firesale mode — and while we’re not quite there yet — it appears that the Sox are finally willing to trade Chris Sale and move their organization forward.
Lucas Giolito and Victor Robles (both top 10 prospects at MLB.com) would be the two main pieces the Sox would be receiving in return for their ace, according to Ken Rosenthal:
A consensus top five prospect coming into the 2016 season, Giolito was also widely considered the best pitching prospect in baseball. The 6-6, 255-pounder did nothing to change that perception in the minors last year, striking out 116 batters in 115.1 innings pitched with a 2.64 ERA combined between double-A and triple-A. He did have a 1.28 WHIP, but most of that was due to a 4.31 BB/9 in his 71 innings at double-A. When he was promoted he cut his walk rate down to 2.41 in 37.1 innings, pretty impressive for a 22-year-old.
The story shifted a bit for Giolito when he got his first taste of MLB action, however, as his 21.1 innings produced more walks than strikeouts, to go along with a 6.75 ERA and 8.21 FIP. While no one wants to see that, it’s largely excusable given Giolito had never thrown more innings as a professional than in 2016, and had never faced competition higher than double-A coming into the year. This small sample though may have tarnished Giolito slightly enough that the Nationals would consider trading him.
Jeff Sullivan at FanGraphs, however, paints a clearer picture for why the Nationals may be inclined to trade Giolito:
The prized curveball still has plenty of depth, but Giolito wasn’t spotting it well with the Nationals. The changeup is a distant third pitch, and while Giolito used to get his fastball close to triple digits, it just spent the bulk of its time around 93 – 94. For a four-seamer, it was flat, and Statcast didn’t yield an encouraging spin rate. There is no two-seamer complement. The four-seamer is the fastball, and it wasn’t a good primary pitch. It has to be better, and it could get better, but this was supposed to be the carrying tool.
According to the 2016 Baseball America Prospect Handbook, Giolito’s fastball was not only supposed to be “the carrying tool,” it could potentially be one of the best offerings in all of baseball as BA gave him an 80/80 for their future projection of his fastball. An 80-grade is rare, equating to “plus-plus” on the scouting scale and BA also awarded his curveball a “plus” 70-grade saying:
His 12-6 curveball is a powerful offering with sharp bite and grades nearly as well as his fastball.
Baseball America goes on to say that Giolito’s changeup has “turned into a true weapon against lefthanded hitters,” giving him three above average pitches and the ability to get batters out from both sides of the plate.
The bottom line on Giolito is that the White Sox could potentially be replacing Chris Sale with a righthanded version, a pitcher that could anchor the Sox rotation for the next decade.
Victor Robles is much further away from the majors but may have just as much upside as Giolito. The “breakout prospect of the year” in 2015 for the Nationals according to BA, Robles “is an excellent athlete with true five-tool potential.” He has an extreme line drive swing, generating gap-to-gap power and excellent contact skills with a career minor league line of .306/.401/.458.
Robles was born on May 19, 1997 — I need to take a second to fathom that — so he won’t turn 20 until this season. His most recent action was at high-A where his numbers don’t stand out, but he did steal 18 bases in 41 games with a 110 wRC+ so he could likely handle the bump up to double-A to start 2017.
The White Sox were said to be demanding four top prospects for Sale, so if this is the bulk of the return then the Sox will have secured just two of those four top prospects. While that may seem like a disapointing return given the Sox demands, Robles and Giolito both have elite potential and could very easily develop into key pieces as the White Sox build a perrenial contender.
Two of the prospects the Sox could be targeting in addition to Robles and Giolito are righthanded pitchers Reynaldo Lopez and Eric Fedde.
Lopez struck out 100 batters in 75 innings at double-A this past season, with a 4.00 K/BB and 3.18 ERA. He joined the Nationals late in the year and struggled a bit with a 4.91 ERA but did manage to strike out 42 batters in 44 IP. He could likely join the White Sox rotation immedately, along with Giolito.
Fedde was a top 100 prospect coming into the season after being drafted 18th overall in the 2014 draft by the Nationals. He started off strong at high-A, striking out 95 in 91.2 IP with a 5.00 K/BB and 2.85 ERA. Fedde stumbled a bit after being promoted to double-A, but held his own with a 3.99 ERA and 28 strikeouts in 29.1 IP. He could also potentially be a part of the White Sox future rotation if acquired.
The only update Rosenthal has since last night was to say that he expects the Red Sox to emerge as players for Sale, and that the White Sox and Nationals are still haggling over what would be included in the deal along with Robles and Giolito. If the Red Sox do get involved they would provide the White Sox with some serious leverage, as their top two prospects Andrew Benintendi and Yoan Moncada rank No. 5 and No. 1 respectively among prospects at MLB.com. It appears unlikely that the Red Sox would part with both, but that would be the dream scenario for the South Side. However, settling for Victor Robles and Lucas Giolito would be no small consolation, so I just hope the White Sox don’t screw it up.