According to a report by MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal, the Nationals now have a "legitimate chance" of acquiring White Sox ace Chris Sale and are negotiating the final pieces of a trade. An industry source told MLB.com that a trade was not likely to be finished overnight Monday into Tuesday, and neither club confirmed that a preliminary deal was in place. The two sides are closer than they were entering this week's Winter Meetings, with Washington reportedly willing to part with two of its top prospects, right-handed starter Lucas Giolito and outfielder Victor Robles, as part of a package.
Sale, 27, stands as one of the game's best starters and has found consistent success while working in one of baseball's best hitters' ballparks. The five-time All-Star posted a 17-10 record, a 3.34 ERA and a Major League-best six complete games over a career-best 226 2/3 innings last season. His average velocity dipped from 94.5 mph in '15 to 92.8 mph this past season, per Fangraphs, but Sale took the focus off trying to throw every pitch through the catcher and strike out every hitter, becoming more of a pitcher and less of a thrower.
Sale is owed $12 million in 2017 and $38 million over the next three seasons if club options in '18 and '19 are enacted. Many believe that Sale, due to his immense talent and team-friendly contract, would command an elite return, such as the Nationals' Trea Turner, but a source described Turner as close to untouchable and almost certain to be held out of any deal.
Giolito is ranked as the game's No. 3 overall prospect by MLBPipeline.com. The top prospect in baseball following the 2015 season, Giolito may then have been the untouchable commodity that Turner is today. But Giolito struggled in his first taste of the Majors this year and his velocity was a bit down from its heights in the Minors and scouting reports. Giolito, 22, made six appearances (four starts) with Washington in 2016, but the Nationals still view him as a future front-of-the-rotation pitcher.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo spoke earlier Monday about Giolito and Reynaldo Lopez, the team's No. 3 prospect and a fellow young right-handed starter.
"I thought their stuff was outstanding," Rizzo said. "They are still two of the brightest prospects in all of baseball. They're guys that we're going to count on both in 2017 and beyond. They're elite prospects in the game right now. In the very near future, these elite prospects will become viable Major League commodities for us, and I think those two guys are going to have good, long careers."
The 19-year-old Robles has the potential to flash five-tool talent, but he's still roughly two years away from the Majors. In giving up these top prospects, however, the Nationals would be able to add Sale to a rotation that already includes reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, who has struck out 10.6 batters per nine innings and posted a 3.17 ERA through 924 1/3 career innings.
Much like a top high school recruit being wooed by potential colleges, the Nationals aren't the lone team interested in Sale. The Astros and potentially the Braves and Red Sox could be looking for a starter upgrade and have the high-end prospects required to negotiate with the White Sox.
The White Sox were quick on Monday night to dismiss an ESPN.com report that cited sources and indicated the club may be motivated to move Sale because of concerns about his long-term durability.
"On our side? No. No. No. Come on," Chicago general manager Rick Hahn said of Sale, who has excelled despite his non-traditional mechanics. "Did you see what this guy has done in our uniform over the years?
"We're as excited to have Chris Sale in our uniform today as the day we drafted him. We realize this is an elite-level talent, a rare commodity in this league and a great, great competitor. No."
If interested teams are unable to complete a deal for Sale, they could turn to acquiring Jose Quintana. The 27-year-old southpaw is coming off his first All-Star campaign and has posted four straight seasons of at least 200 innings pitched and an ERA below 3.51. By moving both Sale and Quintana, the White Sox would figure to net six or seven significant prospects in an attempt to boost their system, which is improved but still lacking depth, and set themselves up for future years of success.