MLB.com Columnist

Phil Rogers

Sale perfect trade target for ascendant Cubs

Sale perfect trade target for ascendant Cubs

Can you picture Chris Sale in a Cubs jersey, attacking the Cardinals and Pirates in September? How about the Dodgers or Nationals in October?

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It takes imagination, sure, but if you are a fan of the Cubs, that's a fantasy worth entertaining. More like a nightmare for a White Sox fan, obviously, for understandable reasons.

But should Jerry Reinsdorf, Rick Hahn and Kenny Williams entertain the possibility of a deal that sends the new Randy Johnson to Wrigley Field, along with his undersized contract that runs through 2019?

That's a truly intriguing question, and in this era of fewer and fewer truly untouchable players, the answer is yes. Go big or go home.

Forgetting for a moment the politics of a team in a two-city market trading its best player to the other side of town, you'd be blind not to acknowledge how well the White Sox and Cubs match up on a trade, possibly an old-fashioned blockbuster. Maybe even one as big as the Dallas Cowboys made when they sent Herschel Walker to the Minnesota Vikings.

Theo Epstein and the Cubs are stalking a spot in the postseason quicker than anyone imagined, thanks to the addition of Joe Maddon and Jon Lester last offseason. They need another front-of-the-rotation arm to put alongside Jake Arrieta and Lester. They have accumulated a stunning inventory of age-25-and-under hitters.

On the other side of Chicago, the White Sox believe they have the starting pitchers to win, and they are about to add another one in Carson Fulmer, the Vanderbilt ace who looks like the second serving of Sonny Gray. They are running in place because they can't score runs, however, and lack impact bats and overall depth in their farm system.

Nobody wants to trade young pitching, but it's time the White Sox explore deals for some hitters who can end their dependence on post-prime imports like Juan Pierre, Kevin Youkilis, Adam Dunn, Jeff Keppinger, Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera and Emilio Bonifacio.

Fulmer -- who is expected to ascend quickly like Mark Buehrle, Sale and Carlos Rodon once he has signed his contract -- arguably puts 26-year-old lefty Jose Quintana or even the 22-year-old Rodon in play in the right deal. But would the White Sox move Sale? That would be their Herschel Walker trade.

Conventional wisdom has the Cubs lining up to sign David Price or Jordan Zimmermann to monster contracts next offseason. They've got the payroll flexibility to do it, even after signing Lester for $155 million in December. But early on in Epstein's tenure with the Cubs, he said that "in a perfect world, you'd never sign a free agent.''

You develop players you can either win with or trade to fill holes, like Epstein's regime did in Boston when it sent Hanley Ramirez to the Marlins for a 25-year-old Josh Beckett.

Yes, Price interests the Cubs, along with Zimmermann, Zack Greinke and others who are expected to be available after the season. But the immediate option is trading for a 2015 version of Beckett.

Maybe that's Gray, as difficult as it would be to get him from the Athletics. Maybe it's the Mets' Noah Syndergaard or even reigning National League Cy Young Rookie of the Year Award winner Jacob deGrom. Maybe there's a way to get Chris Archer or Corey Kluber, although their talent and long-term contracts could make them as difficult to attain as Sale.

So we're back to where we started -- the 26-year-old lefty with a 2.76 career ERA while based in a hitter's park, a guy who is a run of Cy Young Awards waiting to happen.

Sale will go to the mound on Wednesday afternoon in Minneapolis on one of the greatest pitching runs we've seen. Sale has had 10-plus strikeouts in six consecutive starts, including 12-plus in each of his last five, and he hasn't allowed more than five hits in a start since May 6.

We've yet to learn if Epstein can part with even one of the top prospects he's collected, but what would he give up to get Sale? And at what point would the White Sox have to swallow hard and say, "You've got a deal"?

Like Billy Beane, Sandy Alderson, Chris Antonetti or Matt Silverman, Hahn would ask for Kris Bryant if Epstein approached him about Sale. That's automatic, as Epstein's refusal to deal him would also be. Where this gets interesting is how high Epstein could pile his other young hitters to get a pitcher he'd targeted.

For Sale, the Cubs could give the White Sox both bats to provide immediate impact and multiple pieces to restock the farm system that went barren in a decade of neglect. It could be a silver bullet fix for an organization that wants to avoid the kind of long, slow rebuild that the Cubs have endured.

Let's headline the hypothetical trade with Jorge Soler or Kyle Schwarber, either of whom could hit alongside Jose Abreu in the middle of the order for years. Now add in Javier Baez, his 30-homer potential and his tremendous instincts, or center fielder Albert Almora.

Epstein would have anyone's attention at that point. After that, a deal to an American League team would almost certainly include Dan Vogelbach, the Double-A first baseman/DH whose career slash line (.285/.378/.474) reflects his solid approach at the plate.

The rest of a massive package could come from big league ready players like Matt Szczur, Junior Lake, Arismendy Alcantara and Christian Villanueva; younger pieces like Billy McKinney, Gleyber Torres, Eloy Jimenez; or even a pitching prospect or two, including C.J. Edwards or Duane Underwood.

Maybe we're talking about a five- or six-for-one trade. Maybe the total reaches double digits. The permutations are endless, really.

What's too tall of a stack of talent for the most dominating young pitcher in the game? That depends on Epstein's risk tolerance.

After all, the Walker trade didn't put the Vikings in the Super Bowl, as it was designed to do. It sure worked out well for the Cowboys, however. They traded their marquee player and set themselves up for sustained success. That's the dynamic that on some level has to intrigue the White Sox, if not this summer then next winter.

Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.