Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe, and Victor Diaz for Chris Sale
Chris Sale being traded to the Red Sox was the talk of the offseason in 2017. It was a highly controversial deal, which saw Yoan Moncada (No. 5 overall prospect at the time) and Michael Kopech (No. 36 overall prospect) along with Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz being sent to the White Sox.
At the time of the trade, Sale had finished in the top six in Cy Young voting for five consecutive seasons and was owed just $39.5 million over the next three years. Since becoming a starter, he averaged 29.6 starts per season, never having missed an extended period of time due to an injury. He was easily the best available pitcher that offseason and Dealin’ Dave pulled the trigger.
Sale has been just as advertised for the Red Sox, finishing second and fourth in the Cy Young voting during his first two seasons. For some time, the lanky lefty’s ability to pitch in the playoffs was in doubt, as his career postseason ERA was 5.76. Recent findings regarding the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal perhaps provide an explanation though. Excluding his 2017 start in Houston, Sale’s postseason ERA is 4.05 and his FIP is 2.71.
His 4.40 ERA from last year may also look ugly, but a deeper dive into the stats provides more insight. To begin, his FIP was 3.39, indicating that his high ERA may be the result of bad batted ball luck.
Furthermore, former manager Alex Cora only allowed Sale to have two Spring Training starts in an attempt to reduce his workload. This strategy backfired in a big way, as Sale posted an 8.50 ERA and 6.10 FIP over his first four games. These struggles were not unique to him either. Rick Porcello’s appearances were similarly limited during spring training and struggled to the tune of an 8.47 ERA and 6.80 FIP over his first four starts. For the next 17 games,
Sale was the ace Boston knew and loved. He pitched to a 3.24 ERA and 2.40 FIP from April 23 through July 23 and had the Red Sox just 2.5 games out of the second Wild Card spot. However, an attempt to pitch through an injury late in the season saw his ERA balloon once again, and he posted a 6.46 ERA and 4.10 FIP in his final four starts before he was shut down for good.
Put simply, Sale was more or less the same elite pitcher in 2019―he was just put in a very difficult position to succeed.
Over in Chicago, Moncada is blossoming into the star the Red Sox hoped he’d become when they signed him out of Cuba. He hit .315 with 25 home runs last season. Though his high batting average can be partially explained by a .406 BABIP, that is not entirely due to good batted ball luck. He had an average exit velocity of 92.8 mph, which was in the top 3% in the majors, per Baseball Savant. Although his fielding is subpar (-4 DRS) and he does not take many walks, he is still 24 years old and will likely continue to improve.
Despite Tommy John surgery causing him to miss all of 2019, Kopech enters 2020 as the 20th best prospect in all of baseball. Luis Alexander Basabe is the No. 7 prospect in a stacked White Sox farm system. Victor Diaz was not one of the team’s top 50 prospects.
Even though the Red Sox gave up a valuable package of young players, they were able to receive a Hall of Fame caliber ace for three years under a team-friendly contract. While Red Sox fans will undoubtedly watch the careers of Moncada and Kopech closely, for now, it seems as though this deal was a win for both sides (this does not include Sale’s seemingly disastrous extension).