NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The Red Sox struck for a blockbuster trade that makes an already solid team a potentially fearsome one, acquiring lefty ace Chris Sale from the White Sox on Tuesday for a four-prospect package that includes infielder Yoan Moncada.
Boston also sent highly touted pitching prospect Michael Kopech, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and right-hander Victor Diaz to Chicago. Moncada is the top-ranked prospect in the game, according to MLBPipeline.com. The deal marks the first time in at least 25 years that baseball's No. 1 prospect has been traded, based on the rankings done by MLB Pipeline and Baseball America.
"We've talked about Chris Sale throughout the last couple years," said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "We didn't have any ongoing conversations. I got a call on Friday ... from Rick [Hahn, White Sox GM] saying they were thinking of moving him, and with the new CBA, they were committed to making some moves in the organization. He asked me [if we] would be interested. I said, 'Of course, anybody in baseball would have interest in Chris Sale.'
"I tip my cap to Rick. He's a professional and handled the situation well, and was very direct. He did his homework. We're absolutely thrilled to have Chris Sale on board with us. We feel it gives us a chance to win now. Our rotation is very strong, we solidified our bullpen earlier in the day. … We gave up two of the better prospects in baseball, but we thought this gives us a significant chance to win."
Championship teams are usually built around pitching, and the Red Sox now have a stacked rotation that includes a pair of five-time All-Stars in Sale and David Price and also the American League's Cy Young Award winner from 2016 in Rick Porcello.
Manager John Farrell will have quite the task in determining which of those three hurlers should get the ball on Opening Day, which is set for April 3 at Fenway Park against the Pirates.
"We found ourselves in a great situation to be able to acquire an elite starter," said Farrell. "I think the one thing this is a reminder of is how aggressive our ownership is to allow us to win every time we take the field."
The deal presented a classic case of one team with immediate championship aspirations and another ready to rebuild around young players. And it had the industry buzzing.
"That's a big one. That's a blockbuster," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "It was a 'Wow.' Obviously, they gave up a lot and they got a lot. Boston's like the Golden State Warriors now in baseball; they've got their [Kevin] Durant, their [Draymond] Green, [Klay] Thompson and [Stephen] Curry. It's a big one."
As recently as Monday, Dombrowski said he didn't feel a driving force to add a starting pitcher.
"Pretty much Sale or nothing," Dombrowski said. "We didn't have any other conversations taking place because we like our rotation as it is. I really didn't think it was a big need for us."
Sale's club-friendly contract at a time when star pitchers command top dollar was a big reason Dombrowski made the deal, and also why the compensation was so significant.
Sale will earn $12 million in 2017, and there are club options for '18 ($12.5 million) and '19 ($13.5 million). The trade gives the White Sox a chance to build for the future with two potential cornerstone players.
"It affects the decision," said Dombrowski. "He's a good pitcher no matter what, but he's a good pitcher with a friendly contract. It's always ability and finances that are tied together. Our goal is to get under [the tax threshold], and his contract helps, no doubt about that."
One thing Dombrowski has been known for is his ability to be fearless in terms of trading top prospects for a superstar. Over the years, Dombrowski has traded for marquee players like Gary Sheffield while with Marlins; Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, Price and Ian Kinsler during his stint with the Tigers; and Craig Kimbrel last year for Boston.
"It's a very difficult deal to make, but I've also been in a spot where you have to give something to get something," Dombrowski said. "The ability to get a Chris Sale doesn't come along that often. This is one of the best pitchers in baseball and he's proven. We're trying to win. There will come a day when Moncada is putting in his 15-year career that they will be saying, 'The Red Sox, geez, I can't believe we traded that guy.' So yes, it does complicate it."
Kopech, who throws 100 mph and was Boston's No. 5 prospect, is now ranked No. 2 among White Sox prospects.
For the White Sox, the trade ends months of speculation that Sale could be on the move. Several teams engaged in discussions for Sale during the Winter Meetings, but the Red Sox separated themselves from the pack.
"It's never easy to trade a pitcher the caliber of Chris Sale," said Hahn. "We have made no secret heading into the offseason our goal is to put ourselves in the best position to contend for an extended period of time for multiple championships. Given where we were as an organization entering this offseason, we knew we were going to have to make some painful decisions."
That painful decision by the White Sox led to joy for the Red Sox. Sale, who turns 28 in March, went 17-10 with a 3.34 ERA last season, striking out 233 and walking 45 in 226 2/3 innings.
Though the AL East is traditionally very tough on pitchers, Sale should have what it takes to thrive. Last season, he went 6-0 with a 1.55 ERA and a 0.82 WHIP in six starts against the Yankees, Blue Jays, Rays and Orioles.
With much fanfare in March 2015, the Red Sox signed Moncada to a record-setting deal ($31.5 million signing bonus) for an amateur player. In total, Boston invested $63 million for the switch-hitter from Cuba due to a penalty for going over the international bonus limit.
The 20-year-old Kopech, Boston's first-round pick in the 2014 Draft, went 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA in 12 starts between Class A Short-Season Lowell and Class A Advanced Salem in 2016.
Basabe was ranked No. 8 among Boston prospects, while Diaz was No. 28.
The Nationals were reportedly willing to offer their two top prospects, Lucas Giolito and Victor Robles, in a package for Sale. After their major score, the Red Sox should go into the season as heavy favorites to win the AL East.
Boston won the division last season with 93 wins before being swept by the Indians in the AL Division Series.
"It puts us in a spot where we feel good about our ballclub," Dombrowski said. "I saw Joe Maddon over here earlier, and we're trying to accomplish what he did last season. That's the ultimate goal."
Fantasy spin | Fred Zinkie (@FredZinkieMLB)
Having already proven his dominance for an AL club with a hitter-friendly home park, Sale will be among the top five starters in 2017 fantasy drafts now that he has the support of a high-scoring Red Sox lineup. Fantasy owners should project the left-hander to produce at least 18 wins with 235 strikeouts and an ERA in the low-3.00s during '17. Sale will join Price and Porcello as pitchers with guaranteed spots in Boston's rotation, meaning Wright, Pomeranz, Rodriguez and Buchholz will likely need to compete for two starting jobs.
Now a member of the retooling White Sox, Moncada could soon find himself with a regular big league role. The consensus top prospect in baseball, Moncada has the potential to make a major impact in 2017 fantasy leagues after producing 15 homers with 45 steals and a .407 on-base percentage in the Minors last season. Even if he is not on the Opening Day roster, the 21-year-old will be a prime stash candidate in all formats.
Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.