As the Cardinals move closer to the trade deadline, we seemingly move toward the inevitable trade for a middle reliever for a so-so prospect. The Cardinals are in a decent position for the wild card, but nothing about this team or the Cardinals philosophy in general says the team will move all-in. While it might not seem like the Cardinals will make a splash, the team generally makes its bigger moves under the radar. Trading for Jason Heyward and the move that sent Allen Craig and Joe Kelly to the Boston Red Sox for John Lackey were shockers. Chris Sale certainly seems available, and the Cardinals could put together a solid offer that could change the landscape of the franchise.
The White Sox reported asking price is five prospects. Reasonable? Let's dig in.
While trying to put a monetary value on a player at the trade deadline in a pennant race is difficult to do. Players tend to have more value at this time because teams are more certain of the potential benefit a player has. If Chris Sale were a free agent at the end of the season, he would still net a monster haul. He's not a free agent. Sale is owed just $38 million after this season (only 2017 is guaranteed), and around $3 million to the end of the season.
We can use different estimates to try and place a value on what Sale provides, but to keep this relatively simple, let's use Sale's ZiPS projections and $8 million per WAR this season with 5% inflation. He is projected for 2.1 WAR the rest of the way this year, and per the Trade Value series at FanGraphs, where Sale ranked 15th, he will be worth 17.1 WAR over the next three years. Using an 8% discount on future value, Sale's present day surplus value on his current contract is $109.7 million.
We will get back to that figure, but first let's do the same for the White Sox other very good pitcher. While not as good as Chris Sale, Jose Quintana is quite good and has an even more team-friendly contract (this is why you lock up pitchers early). Quintana ranked 25th in the Trade Value Series and is owed around $37 million over the next four years, including this one. He is projected for 1.9 WAR to the end of the season, and 15.5 WAR over the next four years. Using the same valuation for Quintana as we did for sale, the present day value on the surplus in his current contract $99.3 million. We can see that Sale is the more valuable player, but it might not be as far as it seems.
In a strict prospect sense, the Cardinals do have a lot to offer. In the Midseason Top 100 from Baseball America, the Cardinals had four players: Alex Reyes at 2, Luke Weaver at 75, Jack Flaherty at 88, and Harrison Bader at 89. Kevin Creagh and Steve DiMiceli attempted to come up with values for prospects based on results at certain ranks by position player and pitcher, including arbitration salaries and discounting to present value. Since we did the same exercise for Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, we can provide a bit of a comparison.
Here are the values for the Cardinals four top prospects:
|Prospect Rank||Projected WAR||Present Value|
|Alex Reyes||2||14.6||$69.9 M|
|Luke Weaver||75||3.7||$16.5 M|
|Jack Flaherty||88||3.5||$15.6 M|
|Harrison Bader||89||4.5||$20.6 M|
Reyes' value actually goes along pretty well with his ZiPS, as Reyes was ranked 46th by Trade Value. If Reyes was in the 10-20 range instead of the top ten, his value drops by half in that study. While five top prospects might be too high of an ask for Chris Sale, the Cardinals have four prospects whose value closely approximates Chris Sale's. That being said, I doubt the Cardinals would make a deal like the one above.
The Cardinals currently have a surplus of talent at the major league level, and any trade for a pitcher would necessitate moving a current member of the rotation out. While we might have dream-world scenarios where Jhonny Peralta and Jaime Garcia could be moved to net a player like Chris Sale, they are unrealistic. The same is true for Matt Adams. Spare parts do no net an ace. The White Sox want to contend, but they will also want young, cost-controlled talent.
Any deal is going to start with Alex Reyes and likely include one of the other three prospects from above. From the current rotation, the only member who would make sense in a trade would be Wacha. It's difficult to say what Kolten Wong's trade value is, and the same goes for Randal Grichuk, but their floor is certainly higher than that of a prospect, and they are still controlled for multiple years at reasonable salaries.
In the end, I think Michael Wacha, Alex Reyes, Kolten Wong, and Harrison Bader is reasonable trade for either Chris Sale or Jose Quintana. Might the deal be a little better for the Cardinals by seeking Quintana? Maybe, but not much. A deal like this would indeed be a shocker, but if the Cardinals are looking to make a splash, this might be the best way to go. It would certainly hurt the farm system, and the Cardinals would be creating a long-term infield need with Wong out of the picture that might be filled by Jedd Gyorko, but the opportunity to get one of the best pitchers in baseball does not come around often. They tried to spend $200 million doing it last offseason, and that wasn't enough. It takes money and/or talent to get talent back. That's the way it works, and whether it would work for the Cardinals remains to be seen.