Pitchers can rest a little easier, though, as Hahn told reporters that the Sox's young pitching depth will allow them to complete a turnaround faster than those teams who committed to a wholesale gutting:
"We do feel that you have to start with the pitching," Hahn said. "You are going to compete in this league with the pitching and we do feel we have the nucleus under control for a while going forward that is going to help us compete. The bulk of our struggles this year have been on the offensive side. That’s something we are going to have to improve."
Ken Rosenthal, on the other hand, doesn't necessarily think the Sox should make their young pitching untouchable. In fact, Rosenthal suggests the Sox might be better off moving their finest young pitcher in particular:
The time is right; the market for starting pitching stinks.
The White Sox should be that team.
Now, if you've read Rosenthal -- or Lookout Landing -- this might sound familiar, because he thought the Mariners would be better off using Felix Hernandez to restock multiple positions. He suggested it in March of 2011 ... and in December of that year ... and once again the following June. So at least he's consistent.
The first two of the "Felix trade" columns underscores the danger of dealing Sale, though. He knew the Yankees were interested in Hernandez and made a good trade partner, listing a return so nice he suggested it twice: Jesus Montero, Eduardo Nunez and Ivan Nova, along with one of Dellin Betances or Manny Banuelos.
If none of those names do anything for you, well, that's because they haven't done much of anything collectively. The Mariners eventually acquired Montero to find out he isn't a catcher or a hitter, Nunez is a now 26 and a backup shortstop with a .558 OPS this year, Betances is pitching out of the bullpen at Triple-A after a disastrous season as a starter in 2012, and Banuelos won't pitch until 2014 due to Tommy John surgery.
Nova is the exception, a nice enough pitcher with a 32-16 career record and a 4.35 ERA ... but that would be all the Mariners had to show for it, even if the Yankees had included Betances and Banuelos. The latter is only 22 and could bounce back from Tommy John just fine ... but that gamble would be the second-most appealing part of the deal.
(The December 2011 column also says Jack Zduriencik acquired "a strong return" for Doug Fister. Mariners fans might disagree with that description of Charlie Furbush and Casper Wells, especially since Fister only pitched better with Detroit. Maybe Chance Ruffin is the key.)
We've been over this before -- when it comes to young, cost-controlled pitchers, the supposedly incredible returns haven't done much for me. The Sox have no problem carrying Sale's salary, and nobody's going to usurp him, so the opportunity cost is negligible. It's all about the quality of the players coming back. Judging the recent young-pitcher trades of the last couple years, the Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez deals didn't reshape the roster for years to come. The Trevor Cahill trade was a good one for Oakland, but that's because Cahill wasn't overpowering.
I think the best pound-for-pound pitcher trades have included short-termers. Ones I like include:
- Two years of Zack Greinke: Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Jake Odorizzi
- Two months of Greinke: Jean Segura plus prospects
- Two years of James Shields: Wil Myers and Odorizzi plus prospects.
- Three years of Dan Haren: Joe Saunders, Patrick Corbin and Tyler Skaggs.
I don't see any way the Sox would trade Sale, not just because he's a great young pitcher, but because he's everything they'd like a White Sox to be personally. He's the face and Condor body of the franchise.
But if Sale were a more ordinary kind of incredible, it still wouldn't make much sense. He's the AL's best pitcher by some measures and under team control for up to six seasons after this one. He won't even hit eight figures until 2017. The Sox need cheap stars. Sale is a cheap star. Therefore, Hahn would pretty much have to get two stars back to justify it. Otherwise, it's getting way too cute.
Looking at the past few years of trades, it really only makes sense to deal an established star pitcher once a GM has an idea of what life would look like at the end of the original commitment. If Hahn thinks he can turn this ship around in two years ... Sale's a big reason why, as he's still around for four more after that, and leaving lots of room on the payroll for others. If Hahn is wrong, Sale will still have as much applicable trade value two years from now.
That said, I wouldn't make all the pitching off-limits. There's no real use holding onto Jake Peavy, whether he's tradeable this month, August or in the offseason. John Danks is a pitcher whose contract gets in the way. And trading an established young pitcher like Jose Quintana or Hector Santiago could bring back the kind of talent-reallocating return if the market is that desperate. And that's before the other veterans like Rios and the three marketable relievers are factored into the mix.
Basically, you need two hands to count the ways the roster might change before the year is over. A Sale trade might be the kind of thing baseball writers dream about, but there's enough ways to use your imagination without dragging him into it.
Or Hahn might quote Jeff Sullivan in the face of every Hernandez rumor: Sale is ours, and you can't have him.