From multiple media reports, the Nationals appear to be the team most likely to land White Sox ace Chris Sale in a trade this offseason—possibly as soon as this week’s Winter Meetings. The only thing that might scuttle the deal? If the Nats get Andrew McCutchen instead.
Jon Heyman of FanRag Sports reports that the Nationals “have a clear lead” on other teams in bidding for Sale, who is among the many Sox players on the trade block as Chicago prepares for a complete and painful rebuild. Yesterday, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal first reported the framework of a Nats-Sox deal that would see Sale to Washington in exchange for a pair of top prospects: outfielder Victor Robles and righty starter Lucas Giolito.
Sale, who’ll turn 28 before opening day, is as close to a sure thing as you can get, coming off his fifth straight all-star appearance and his fifth straight top-five finish in Cy Young voting. His career high in innings pitched last season has led to some chatter about his durability (usually citing some perceived weakness in his mechanics), but he’s had few injury issues, and the White Sox believe any fears that have been floated are just meant to knock down his price in a potential trade. Sale and Max Scherzer would make the best 1-2 punch in baseball, and Stephen Strasburg, health permitting, makes a hell of a No. 3 starter. The Nats have struggled in short series, so adding Sale to their rotation would make them as fearsome as anyone in the NL.
Jerry Reinsdorf has said that to obtain Sale, who has one more year and then two affordable club options on his contract, teams would have to give up “four prospects that can’t miss”—maybe an unrealistic ask, but this reported Nationals offer is pretty good. Giolito projects as a front-end starter, despite struggling in his call-up this season, and the Nats have counted on the 19-year-old, five-tool Robles to be a big part of an outfield that will be without Jayson Werth after 2017 and, perhaps, without Bryce Harper after 2018.
The uncertainty over Harper’s long-term future explains why the Nationals are in win-now mode. Washington emerged as the earliest and strongest rumored team in the bidding for Pirates star Andrew McCutchen, even as they reportedly refused to include Robles in any offer to Pittsburgh. McCutchen and Sale represent the best hitter and pitcher available, and the Nats appear intent on going for it. They’ve got the motivation and they’ve got the pieces, and which of the two deals they close may be dependent only upon which one closes first.