At least as far as recent history goes, Chris Sale might’ve been unprecedentedly valuable as a trade asset. We just haven’t seen trades with pitchers so good, signed for so long, to such affordable salaries. It’s fitting, then, that the White Sox convinced the Red Sox to make the recently unprecedented decision to move baseball’s top prospect. There’s nothing fun or painless about initiating a rebuild. It can get fun pretty quick, though, when you land a player like Yoan Moncada.
In all honesty, it’s not entirely clear the White Sox got more for Sale than the Braves got a year ago for Shelby Miller. There are two ways you could interpret that. One, you could choose to believe the White Sox didn’t get enough. But, two, no, that’s not right. This is the price of an ace-level starter, and this just further goes to show how badly the Diamondbacks screwed up. I guess that’s not what’s important now. What’s important now is the White Sox have officially decided to pivot, and this is a hell of a first step.
There are, of course, the players they’d dream about. Players like Alex Bregman or Dansby Swanson or Andrew Benintendi or whoever. You always want to get that Wil Myers, that top prospect you can play in the majors right away. Those players weren’t available for Sale. Teams weren’t going to give up big-league players to get a big-league player. So the White Sox had a decision to make. Get a number of interesting young prospects, or gun for the best young prospect? They got the consensus No. 1, and though the other players included have their own strengths, Moncada alone provides a massive jolt for the White Sox’ organizational future.
Eric just analyzed the White Sox’ return at length. Read that! Victor Diaz has a big arm as a low-level reliever. Those players can move quickly. Luis Alexander Basabe is 20 years old and loaded with tools as an outfielder. He’s a promising lottery ticket. Michael Kopech has drawn substantial attention for his ability to touch 100 miles per hour as a starter. Starting in Double-A, he just struck out literally 40% of all his opponents. His repertoire isn’t polished, he doesn’t always throw strikes, and he’s had some maturity-related issues, so Kopech is a toss-up like anyone else, but even a 50th-percentile outcome might have him relieving effectively in the majors in eight or nine months. Kopech is fun. “Electric” could be the word. Fascinating second piece.
But he’s a distant second piece. Kopech is a pitching prospect who loses the zone. Moncada is a position player, and the best prospect overall. Studies have repeatedly shown that no prospect is close to as valuable as a highly-ranked bat. The White Sox are putting many of their eggs here in the Moncada basket.
There wasn’t going to be another trade anything like this on the table. Other teams would’ve been combining prospects to try to get to enough value. The best position player the Nationals would’ve offered is Victor Robles. The best position player the Braves would’ve offered is Ozzie Albies. The best position player the Astros would’ve offered is Kyle Tucker. Instead of hoping for a few players to pan out, the White Sox mostly focused on one potential superstar. Nobody has the Moncada upside.
Of course, I don’t want it to come off like Moncada is a lock. He’s not, because no one is, and that includes Chris Sale. People have expected Sale to break down physically for years. Moncada’s reddest-flag issue would be contact. He does swing and miss, and even outside of the big-league cup of coffee, there were a lot of whiffs in Double-A. You generally don’t want your top prospects striking out three times out of every 10 chances. Moncada is very much *not* ready to start in the majors.
But he just had his age-21 season. He’s always been able to walk, his on-contact production is extraordinary, and he moves incredibly well. Even with 31% strikeouts in Double-A, Moncada also ran a 152 wRC+. He just came close to 50 combined stolen bases. The enthusiasm is in part about the high ceiling set by the tools, but it’s not all tools, because Moncada has also produced in the meantime. He hit in regular-A, he hit in high-A, and he hit in Double-A. His profile is remarkably well-rounded.
Odds are, he’s something like a year off. His future position is anything but set. You always have to worry about the n-percent chance Moncada goes all Brandon Wood. But you can compare him to, say, Melvin Upton Jr. If Moncada doesn’t even get all that much better, the Upton path is hardly out of reach. Say Kopech’s 50th-percentile outcome is being a good big-league reliever soon. What would the Upton path be, for Moncada? The 50th-percentile outcome? The 60th-percentile outcome? There’s an awful lot of skillset overlap, and Upton was worth more than 22 wins before his first free-agent year. Maybe I’m exaggerating the likelihood of that, but it’s not by that much. Moncada is a super-talent, with the only actual major drawback being that he’s not ready to play in Chicago yet.
No matter what, the White Sox were always going to get something enormous for their No. 1 pitcher. That hardly even needs to be said, and whether Sale were moved to the Red Sox or Nationals or Astros or wherever, it was going to completely change the picture of their farm system. Good, young big-league hitters weren’t available to Chicago, so they went for the best young non-big-league hitter. It’s a statement way to start a rebuild process, and Moncada’s one of the better prospects that’s been traded in memorable history. Though no one’s ever enthusiastic to blow a roster up, this is one path to quick healing.
Pretty obviously, things should only go from here. There’s no reason for the White Sox to trade Chris Sale if they aren’t also prepared to trade Adam Eaton, Jose Quintana, and the others, so this teardown will be extended and thorough and deep. The signal out of the Chicago front office is clear, at last, and there is going to be so much losing. So much losing of players, and so much losing of games. Those aspects are the unpleasant bits, and season-ticket sales will plummet for a little while. But, the hurt? The hurt is never greater than it is when you move a player like Sale. That’s the gut-punch, and that’s why the White Sox hesitated for as long as they did. That’s now already happened. The worst pain is in the White Sox’ past. Moncada ought to be healing, even if the other interesting players come up short. This is what the front office believes in, and buy-in from the fans should follow in time. Yoan Moncada could be the foundation of a towering structure.