"The caliber of pitcher available isn't often [bandied] about in the trade market," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "He's a quality pitcher and you're going to have to give up quality to get him. ...We reached as far as we were going to reach in the trade and we fell short."
The two sides began discussing a potential deal for Sale before the Winter Meetings began, first informally and then formally at the Meetings. Even though reports had Washington willing to include top prospects such as Lucas Giolito and Victor Robles -- the top two prospects in their system as rated by MLB Pipeline -- the Nationals were not willing to deal Trea Turner, according to a source familiar with the discussions. Chicago preferred the offer by Boston, which featured Yoan Moncada, the No. 1 prospect in MLB.
It was the second consecutive day the Nationals missed out on one of their top targets, after Mark Melancon signed with the Giants on Monday.
"You move on to the next," Rizzo said. "We pivot, we start working on the next deal. We've got plans A, B and C in place and when that door shuts, another door opens."
Even without Sale, starting pitching remains one of their strengths, but the Nats still have needs to address in the outfield and bullpen. Rizzo repeatedly used the phrase "lines in the water" on Tuesday, noting the Nats could go a number of different ways to improve. He acknowledged that one of those options is a deal for Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen.
Talks between Pittsburgh and Washington intensified last week and never broke off, even as the Nationals focused their attention on Sale the past two days. McCutchen is an obvious fit for the Nats, who would like to add an outfielder in order to move Turner back to shortstop. McCutchen has two years of club control left and at a reasonable salary for a player of his caliber.
While the Pirates have maintained that they do not have to trade him, they are actively listening to offers. The Nats still have all their prospects, even if they will not part easily with one or more of their top Minor Leaguers.
Perhaps there is a deal to still be made with the White Sox. After trading Sale, others may also be made available, including outfielder Adam Eaton or closer David Robertson, who both could draw interest from the Nationals. Rizzo would not comment on any of their other players specifically, saying that the White Sox have a lot of players teams would be interested in.
Washington is still seeking to acquire bullpen help, even though the top two free-agent closers remaining -- Aroldis Chapman and Kenley Jansen -- will be expensive and might end up out of the Nationals' price range.
Still, after missing out on their top targets the first two days of the Winter Meetings, they still have plenty of opportunities to make a splash.