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Re-visiting the potential of a Chris Sale trade

A trade for Chris Sale likely starts with Alex Reyes

Chicago White Sox v St Louis Cardinals Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

Much of the focus of the Cardinals offseason has been on the position player side. After letting Matt Holliday and Brandon Moss go to free agency and moving Matt Carpenter to first base, the team has a pretty easily identifiable spot to fill in the outfield. On the pitching side, the team has Adam Wainwright, Mike Leake, Carlos Martinez, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha, Alex Reyes, and Jaime Garcia all under control for next season. Starting pitching doesn’t seem to be a need, but if Chris Sale is available, the Cardinals still need to make a push for him.

Back in July, I discussed a potential trade for Chris Sale or Jose Quintana, and and noted that Alex Reyes, Luke Weaver, Harrison Bader, and Jack Flaherty would probably be fair value for three and a half seasons of Sale. I also noted that package wasn’t likely to be offered by the Cardinals and discussed a different potential package.

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.

Four months later, much has changed. Michael Wacha, due to the way he finished the season, seems unlikely to be a big chip in any sort of trade. Wong’s value then, much like it is now, is unclear. Alex Reyes proved himself capable of getting outs in the big leagues and remains one of the best prospects in all of baseball. A half-season less of Chris Sale might diminish his value somewhat, but it seems unlikely that the demand for Sale has been reduced, and the White Sox have a pretty good gauge on the market and no player is untouchable, per Dan Hayes.

Back in July, Alex Reyes was “just a prospect”, but after pitching 46 innings with a 1.57 ERA, 2.67 FIP along with gaudy strikeout totals and 1.4 WAR, he probably feels like more than a prospect at this point. John Mozeliak indicated he had earned a spot in next year’s rotation, and will be ranked among the top prospects in baseball and should have a good shot at Rookie of the Year. He’s not untouchable, though.

Chris Sale has been remarkably consistent over the past five seasons, never dipping lower than 4.7 WAR and averaging just above five wins per season. Sale is an ace, but you probably already know that. Reyes might become an ace, and having six more seasons of Reyes is tantalizing, but right now, Sale is the better pitcher by a very healthy margin. Trading for him now gets you three years of Sale at discounted prices as he is owed just $38.5 million over the next three seasons.

I wrote at the beginning of the offseason that the Cardinals should make a splash. Unless they can pull off a trade for a great young position player, there is no better option than Chris Sale, and no way the trade gets done without Reyes.

White Sox teammate Jose Quintana has one more year of control than Sale, but his projections don’t create the same marginal win value. Justin Verlander might have the same impact as Sale, but he makes more than double in salary, removing some of the value that would make trading Reyes a no in discussions. Chris Archer has an even better contract than Quintana, and in a strict sense, he might have more value than Sale, but for a team that has decent pitching now, the marginal value isn’t as great and the value down the road is mooted (relative to Sale) by where the Cardinals are currently on the win line.

Verlander, Quintana, and Archer all make a ton of sense for the Cardinals, but including Alex Reyes in those deals is more difficult to do. A deal headlined by Luke Weaver probably doesn’t net any one of those pitchers so if the Cardinals want to make an upgrade in the rotation, it is hard not to see as Reyes as the primary piece in a Chris Sale trade.

While it certainly seems like the Chicago Cubs are way out in front right now, but bold moves can close that gap more quickly than we might believe. While I’m not wild on the idea due to risks in free agency, here’s an example of what the team could do:

  • Trade for Chris Sale
  • Sign Justin Turner
  • Sign Dexter Fowler (I agree with Joe on this one) or Yoenis Cespedes
  • Find takers for Jhonny Peralta and Jaime Garcia

This wouldn’t even cause an increase to the Cardinals payroll (Cespedes would increase it by a bit instead of Fowler) over this past season while pushing the Cardinals dangerously close to the Cubs without gutting a farm system that has added a lot more depth the past few years.

Trading for a superstar should hurt. The Cardinals made the Heyward trade without feeling much loss, but Heyward only had one year left on his deal. Sale has three more years and while we might be envisioning a one-two punch of Carlos Martinez and Alex Reyes for years to come, three seasons of El Gallo and Sale is even better.

Alex Reyes is virtually off limits. That he comes up in the post is not a knock on him or what he has done. It is an extreme compliment. One of the best pitchers in baseball seems to be available and the Cardinals have a player that can headline that deal in Alex Reyes. He can do so because he has great potential, and he has already flashed some of that potential in the big leagues. Giving him up would be difficult to stomach. The Cardinals have a lot of pitching right now. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t still look at the rotation as a place to upgrade if given the opportunity.