The deal sending Sale to the Red Sox for Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech and two prospects signals an overdue change in philosophy for the ownership group and front office, and probably won't be the last trade that general manager Rick Hahn and executive vice president Ken Williams make at the Winter Meetings.
Every veteran on the White Sox roster is in play now, including Jose Quintana, Jose Abreu and Adam Eaton. The goal is to build a contender with some shelf life, like South Side teams from the early 1990s, constructed around Frank Thomas, Robin Ventura, Ozzie Guillen, and such pitchers as Jack McDowell, Alex Fernandez and Wilson Alvarez.
Hahn referred to the "bittersweet" nature of his journey, but have no doubt -- it is one that he and his organization, from chairman Jerry Reinsdorf on down, embraces.
"You wind up sitting up here talking about moving a five-time All-Star and Cy Young candidate, which is never enjoyable,'' Hahn said. "At the same time, there is a level of excitement about what this potential can look like down the road. We have a lot of work ahead of us in similar such moves. ... But the idea to put yourself in [the] position on an annual basis to contend, to be self-sustaining for the most part, with mostly homegrown players, [that] has a great deal of appeal."
Landing the 21-year-old, switch-hitting Moncada to play alongside 23-year-old shortstop Tim Anderson is a great start. Moncada perfectly fits the mold of the controllable impact hitter that Hahn had said he had to get in any deal for Sale, who makes the Red Sox the team to beat in the American League.
It's surprising -- no, astonishing -- that the Red Sox would deal MLB Pipeline's No. 1 overall prospect less than two years after committing $63 million in bonus and taxes to get his rights.
"We admired him as an amateur," Hahn said. "We were interested in him as an amateur. We quickly realized we weren't going to be able to sign him."
But Dave Dombrowski wasn't the executive who recommended that outlay to Red Sox ownership, and he was able to convince his bosses that having Sale in his age-28 season (and -29 and -30 seasons) would be worth watching Moncada develop into an All-Star elsewhere. The Red Sox were only willing to deal Moncada because they have so many other talented position players under age 25, including outfielder Andrew Benintendi, whom the White Sox coveted.
Unlike the Nationals (Trea Turner) and the Astros (Alex Bregman), the Red Sox had two hitters high on the White Sox wish list, not just one. That was the key to completing a deal that also sends Kopech, outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe and right-hander Victor Diaz -- who is being developed as a closer -- to Chicago.
Moncada will quite likely begin the 2017 season at Triple-A Charlotte, not in Chicago. He's dominated in the Minor Leagues, and although he wasn't an instant success when the Red Sox rushed him to the big leagues last September, his long-term outlook is bright.
"It's a very difficult deal to make,'' Dombrowski said. "But you have to give something to get something. The ability to get Chris Sale doesn't come along that often. He's one of the best pitchers in baseball. He's proven it. We're trying to win. [But] there will come a day when Moncada's put in his 15-year career and we'll be saying, 'Gee, I can't believe we traded him.'"
It won't be a surprise to see Sale pitch in a World Series or two for the Red Sox. But for as loyal as he'd been to the team that drafted him from Florida Gulf Coast University in 2010, he wasn't going to get there with the current version of the White Sox.
Chicago's scouting and player development operation slowed down in the aftermath of the 2005 World Series victory, and Williams and Hahn couldn't win again without a heavily homegrown lineup. Instead they were "mired in mediocrity,'' as Hahn aptly described last July. But for now, they will not put themselves in the category of contenders.
The White Sox are willing to take the route of talent acquisition, as the Astros and Cubs have done, the latter ultimately assembling a core that just won the World Series.
One way in which Theo Epstein, Cubs president of baseball operations, operated shrewdly was timing the pace with which he put his trade pieces on the market. He dealt Scott Feldman (in a deal that included Jake Arrieta) on July 2, 2012, leaving him the rest of the month to market Ryan Dempster (whom he traded in a package for Kyle Hendricks). Hahn seems to have done the same with Quintana.
Before the Winter Meetings, Hahn said he was open to business regarding any players with contracts covering fewer than four years. That meant that Sale, controlled through 2019, was fair game, but not Quintana, controlled through 2020.
Guess what changed after the Sale trade?
Almost immediately after that deal was done, executives from other clubs were saying that the White Sox were discussing the possibility of dealing Quintana. Quintana may not have the same high profile as Sale, but he has compiled a 3.41 career ERA while working 200-plus innings in each of the past four seasons.
Also entering his age-28 season and coming off an All-Star season, he might do as much for the Nationals, Astros, Dodgers, Rangers or Cardinals -- as Sale would have. Given that he's under control for a fourth year (at $36.85 million total), he might bring almost as big of a return as Sale.
Abreu and Eaton both seem to have strong markets, with the Rockies pursuing Abreu and the Rangers and Cardinals among the teams with interest in Eaton. The White Sox could also deal Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera and David Robertson, either individually or in a package for Quintana, Abreu or Eaton.
It's a shame the White Sox never made it to the postseason behind Sale, as he deserved the chance to pitch in October. He should get it now, and if he stays in Boston long enough, he might one day get a chance to face Moncada and the rest of a young White Sox squad that has become one of the most exciting teams in the Major Leagues.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.