By Collin Whitchurch
The White Sox made Chris Sale the 13th overall pick in MLB Draft on June 7, 2010. He debuted less than two months later, and six years later had developed into one of the best pitchers on the planet. He’ll enter the 2017 season on the heels of his fourth straight Top 5 finish in Cy Young voting and sixth straight Top 6.
His contract, which will pay him $12 million in 2017 and culminate in 2018 and 2019 with team options at $12.5 million and $13.5 million, respectively, makes him one of the most valuable in baseball. He’ll be 28 years old the next time he throws a pitch in a regular season game.
The White Sox ability to build a core as good as the one we saw at the conclusion of the 2016 season is something close to miraculous. For a team that has long struggled to develop above-average position players while simultaneously being notoriously frugal when it comes to spending in free agency — the Sox are one of only four teams in the entire league that has never shelled out a free agent contract of $100 million or more — the Sox paired Sale with Jose Quintana, who turned into a front-end starter after being acquired as a minor league free agent for basically nothing. They also acquired Jose Abreu, one of the better slugging first basemen in the league, in a rare splurge in spending, and got an All-Star-caliber outfielder, Adam Eaton, in exchange for a good but replaceable starter in Hector Santiago.
Throw in former No. 3 overall pick Carlos Rodon and his gobs of potential, and Todd Frazier and his 40-home run power, and the White Sox had, despite all of their flaws, built a pretty solid foundation on which to content.
So how the hell did we get here?
The White Sox officially began their rebuild on Tuesday when they shipped Sale to Boston in exchange for four prospects. One of them, 21-year-old Yoan Moncada, is among the top prospects in baseball, maybe even a future perennial All-Star and MVP candidate.
Another, Michael Kopech, is a flame-throwing 20-year-old with top-end talent but a lot of question marks. These two, along with lesser-heralded prospects Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz, may end up a very good haul for the Sox when all is said and done, but the fact that after years of half-assed attempts to build competence around such a strong foundation, they’ve finally decided to cut their losses, is nothing short of embarrassing.
The White Sox are in this position because they couldn’t supplement a solid, cost-controlled core with enough talent to become a playoff contender. They’re in this position because they refused to tap into the free agent market for complementary pieces. They didn’t need stars, they had those already!
All they’ve needed was competence. They couldn’t find it, and jettisoning Sale is just the first step in what is sure to be a brutal, mind-numbing teardown.