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Let’s talk about the Chris Sale trade

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Impossible for the White Sox to outright win — but not destined for them to badly lose

Boston Red Sox v Chicago White Sox
No Sale: But growth from Moncada could give the White Sox a substantial return on their 2016 trade with the Red Sox.
Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

During the summer debates about the merit (or lack thereof) of Yoán Moncada, and especially now that our sainted starter savior, Michael Kopech, made the majors and has now been yanked from them with Tommy John surgery, it seems a smart time to see just what it will take to “win” the Chris Sale trade.

Let’s look at both sheer WAR and surplus value when evaluating the deal, as well as go a couple different directions with projections of the two principal young players the Chicago White Sox received for Sale.

Chris Sale

Obviously, Sale is the prize of the trade, a win-now ace and future Hall-of-Famer, signed to a team-friendly contract to boot. In his first year with the Boston Red Sox, Sale delivered 7.7 fWAR, a $61.7 million value and a surplus value (SV) of $49.7 million.

This year, Sale has been nicked in the shoulder a bit and was at 6.1 fWAR through 145 games, projecting to 6.7 fWAR by the end of the season, a $58.3 million value, and SV of $45.8 million.

Although at 30 in 2019, technically on the down side of his career, knowing it’s a salary drive year for Sale, let’s not Tom Tango Sale’s WAR down farther and just split the difference to say 7.2 WAR and nudge the $/WAR up to $8 million, to project Sale’s 2019 SV at $44.1 million.

So Sale’s aggregate total in three years with the Red Sox comes to 21.6 WAR and SV of $139.6 million.

For the purposes of Sale’s lost value to the White Sox, that’s it. I’ve said it many times, but to repeat: Chris Sale was never going to re-sign with the White Sox after 2019. Sale, rightfully enough, wants to get paid, and some team is going to detonate an entire bank to do so. That team was never going to be the White Sox. While Sale is a modest fellow, he knows the extension he signed early in his career yielded SV that is likely unprecedented. There is some resentment there, fair or not.

So, without a trade, Sale was three years and done on the South Side.

In order for the White Sox to make out even on this trade, the three players (discounting Victor Diaz) will have to, at the very least, combine to provide Chicago 21.6 WAR and $139.6 million SV — and likely considerably more.

Why more? Well, equalling Sale’s production would be great, and technically would get the White Sox back what they gave up, but the White Sox are using two or even three roster spots to account for what Sale provided in just one. Does that mean the White Sox need to reap three times Sale’s value in return? Of course not. But to merely match Sale’s Boston output, spread among three roster spots, is adequate, but inefficient.

Sale total: 21.6 fWAR/$139.6 million SV

Sale per season: 7.2 fWAR/$46.5 million SV

Michael Kopech

As the ace coming back for Sale, let’s lead off with Michael Kopech, and have a little fun projecting him for some WAR and SV totals.

Kopech is getting prorated money this season, let’s just round it to $100,000. Just going by minimums that the White Sox may or may not pay north of, he’s due for about $555,000 in 2019 and $565,000 in 2020, and should be eligible for the first of three years of arbitration in 2021. Presuming no contract buying out arbitration years is offered, and best-case Kopech is relatively healthy and dealing pretty well, let’s set arbitration salaries at $7 million, $12 million and $17 million.

Total money paid Kopech before his free agency in 2024: just a hair north of $37 million.

[I thought Kopech would be eligible for free agency in 2025, but Rotoworld is listing him at 2024, so if in doubt, I’ll take the more conservative approach. And of course, the new CBA coming after 2021 will probably skosh much of the discussion here, but you can only project using the rules in play right now. And finally, this estimate salary could end up way off, but the salary aspect of the projection is less important than the performance aspect.]

So, what will Kopech’s WAR performance look like? Before his injury start, we had two games, eight innings, 0.3 fWAR, and $2.4 million value. That equates to $8 million per fWAR, or $333,333 per inning. That’s not a lot to go on, of course. But Sale’s career reads similarly, especially accounting for the increase in WAR value since 2010: $7.7 million per WAR, $220,000 per inning.

So let’s take a look at Kopech’s projected value. With peak production estimates anywhere from age 25 to age 27, it’s safe to say the White Sox are catching Kopech on an upswing. Through those two healthy starts, he’s already at “Sale-esque” production, so it’s defintely too bold to project any better than that for Kopech.

Chris Sale projection: At 205 innings per year (Sale’s average), and Sale’s .028 fWAR/IP, Kopech would is pitching at a 5.7 fWAR per season clip. That’s 22.8 fWAR leading up to free agency over four seasons (2020-23), compared with 22.5 for Sale in Boston.

Surplus value-wise, even keeping the value of 1.0 fWAR at $8 million (it’s likely to continue pushing upward), that means Kopech will provide the White Sox $176 million in value, and $139 million SV.

Noah Syndergaard projection: Snydergaard is a name that comes up a lot in talking about Kopech, and sure, seems legit. Snydergaard works out to $240K per inning pitched and $8.0 million per WAR.

With injuries, Syndergaard falls short of a 200 IP/season arm, averaging 121 13 in his three seasons leading into 2018. With Kopech running into some of those same injury issues, we might see similar production. A 121 13 inning season at Syndergaard’s production level yields 3.6 fWAR and $29.1 million in value, and over four years that’s 14.4 fWAR, $115.2 million in total value and $78.2 SV.

Gavin Floyd projection: Projecting Kopech as the star-crossed Floyd doesn’t actually yield much worse results. Floyd’s five-year parallel White Sox career to Kopech’s yielded 15.6 fWAR and $101.1 million in value, with Floyd averaging 189 23 innings per season (something Kopech won’t possibly do, missing the entire 2019 season). If Kopech’s production was trimmed to the $100,000 value per inning of Floyd, we’d be looking at a 12.5 fWAR career total over four seasons and $100 million total value, for a $63 million SV.

Michael Kopech as Chris Sale total: 22.8 fWAR/$139 million SV

Michael Kopech as Chris Sale per season: 5.7 fWAR/$34.8 million SV

Michael Kopech as Noah Syndergaard total: 14.4 fWAR/$78.2 million SV

Michael Kopech as Noah Syndergaard per season: 3.6 fWAR/$19.6 million SV

Michael Kopech as Gavin Floyd total: 12.5 fWAR/$63 million SV

Michael Kopech as Gavin Floyd per season: 3.1 fWAR/$15.8 million SV

Yoán Moncada

We have a little more to work with in terms of Moncada, but as a young player still ascending, it’s safe to say the second baseman’s production should increase. He’s at 2.5 fWAR over 197 career games, or .013 fWAR/G. His value currently stands at $19.7 million total in his career, or $7.9 million per fWAR. Breaking down per game, Moncada is providing $102,700 in value each game. Given this is his only full season, despite Moncada’s missed time, he projects to 150 games in 2018.

Salary-wise, Moncada projects to earn $555,000 next year and $565,000 in 2020, then being three arbitration years before free agency in 2024. Like Kopech, let’s set arbitration salaries at $7 million, $12 million and $17 million. His total salary under White Sox control would then also be $37 million.

So, using Moncada’s value projection alone, he’ll bring in around 2.0 fWAR and $15.4 million in value per season, at 150 games per season. That’s a White Sox total career of 12.5 fWAR and $96.7 million in value, or $59.7 million SV.

There doesn’t seem much point to a lower projection than 2.0 fWAR per year, because a longer-term player producing at that clip won’t see five full years of White Sox playing time (will they? gulp). So let’s consider Moncada at low ebb.

As for projections, let’s look at a couple of names in Moncada’s ballpark.

Ray Durham projection: Durham had an uneven start to his White Sox career, so for five comp seasons let’s select his final five full seasons in Chicago, 1997-01. Ray-Ray was very durable, playing 769 games in that stretch (154 per season), totaling 11.3 fWAR. FanGraphs doesn’t have player values stretching to the 1990s, but if we apply today’s $8 million per, Durham would have totaled $90.4 million in value to the team. Per game, Durham’s fWAR was .014, a touch better than Moncada’s .013 to date.

So at .014 per game at 150 games per season, Moncada on the Durham track would improve to 13.0 fWAR in his White Sox career, which factors out as $102.7 million in value and $65.7 million SV.

Robinson Cano projection: How about we dream a bit, and lay Moncada over the start of his hero’s career? Cano did take a little time to get traction in the bigs, so we start his five-year projection stretch in 2006. He played 762 games in the five seasons from there (152 per season), notching 17.0 fWAR and $99.2 million in value. Per game, Cano’s fWAR was .022, almost doubling Moncada’s rate.

Yoán Moncada as Robinson Cano total: 19.0 fWAR/$113.1 million SV

Yoán Moncada as Robinson Cano per season: 3.3 fWAR/$22.6 million SV

Yoán Moncada as Ray Durham total: 13.0 fWAR/$65.7 million SV

Yoán Moncada as Ray Durham per season: 2.1 fWAR/$16.6 million SV

Luis Basabe

As tantalizing a talent as Basabe may be, he hasn’t proven he’ll even get to the majors, in spite of some impressive spring training and World Classic games. There is a bevy of comps we could generate here, but Basabe is a Double-A player, and not one who has yet set the Southern League on fire, either. I’d make a lazy comp of Leury García, but it seems Basabe at least brings a better arm to the outfield. But for now, as high as I am on him, we’ve got to look at Basabe as found money. Who knows, maybe year from now, this article is revisited (and revised upward!).

So, is there any way the White Sox can win this trade?

No.

We’re talking about Chris Sale — it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult to make this an even trade, really.

On the surplus value side, Sale comes in at such a small number, it would take another miracle contract extension by Rick Hahn to somehow turn Kopech or Moncada into better values. Equal is hardly possible. If Hahn could rope in Kopech or Moncada with a Tim Anderson extension, there’s hope.

Production on the field (WAR) is a different animal, but even If Kopech and Moncada end up equaling Sale’s WAR production, it’s still divided among two players, and thus not really an equal deal.

But there’s a reasonable chance that the White Sox, over time, can exact something akin to equal in this trade.

Obviously, if Kopech puts up Sale numbers, that’s an obvious win. But no one expected that in the first place, and certainly not now, after TJS. And if Moncada puts up Robinson Cano numbers, that’s an obvious win. In both cases, the player acquired would essentially equal Sale’s production without even considering the second or third (Basabe) player acquired in the trade.

But even without Kopech or Moncada becoming Hall of Fame talents, there are some indirect ways for the White Sox to “win” this trade.

First, the White Sox have more games on their side. Assuming Kopech does come back in 2020 and remains healthy, and Moncada continues his production, the pair could definitely put up more total WAR for the White Sox than Sale does in three years with the Boston Red Sox.

Had the White Sox kept Sale and lost him as a free agent, that bottom of first round draft pick could have led to a productive player — but most likely not, and almost definitely not a Kopech or Moncada.

And even if the most rudimentary comps are employed for both players — Kopech as Floyd, Moncada as Durham — through 2024 the pair will have put up more WAR than Sale alone, in his three Boston years. That’s not an efficient win, by any means, spread over more years and between two players — but, technically, it could be considered a win. And even the SV would come in somewhere in the ballpark of Sale and his viciously under-market deal.

The deal does at this point seem to hinge on Moncada, whose upside is still largely untapped, but attainable. If he can swing back to being a neutral defender (as opposed to negative in 2018) and modestly-positive hitter (as he was in 2017), he may not hit his early-career Cano goal, but his five future years on the South Side could get into the ballpark of Sale’s three in Boston.

And if Kopech can show even the occasional Floyd flashes, and/or Basabe can make it to the majors in even just a productive fourth outfielder role, we’re in the ballpark of a debatably “even” deal.