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The Chris Sale trade impact on the Twins

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Looking at the players the White Sox got in return, it appears that two of them in particular may become troublesome to the Twins in just a couple years.

Tampa Bay Rays v Chicago White Sox Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago White Sox. A team that approached mediocrity in a slightly different fashion from the Twins over the past few years. Whereas the Twins seemed to understand they weren’t going anywhere but also weren’t willing to embrace a full rebuild, the Sox just straight-up ignored the facts. They didn’t sell off their pieces, they didn’t even tread water. Nope, they went for it. Armed with Chris Sale and Jose Quintana atop their rotation, they just needed some offense. In response to the tail end of Paul Konerko’s career, they signed Jose Abreu as his replacement at first base. Following a 2014 season where they went 73-89, they brought in outfielder Melky Cabrera, closer David Robertson, second/third baseman Brett Lawrie, and center fielder Adam Eaton via free agency and trades only to sputter to 76-86 last year. What did executive vice president Kenny Williams and general manager Rick Hahn think would help the Sox? Well, by importing Todd Frazier via trade to play third base which helped the team improve their record by a measly two games last year. Hell, they even misguidedly acquired James Shields in the middle of the season!

Finally, mercifully, the Sox seem to be embracing where they truly stand. Instead of fruitlessly reloading yet again, they just chose to make an abrupt 180 by trading away staff ace Chris Sale to the Boston Red Sox. By making this deal, it appears the White Sox are joining the Twins in the cellar of the AL Central and both teams could possibly be joined by the Kansas City Royals if the rumored trade of Wade Davis comes to fruition.

I can completely understand if your first reaction was to mimic Chicago’s infamous announcer Hawk Harrelson with a resounding “Yes!” and a “He gone!” Believe it or not, but this may end up hurting the Twins and not just because they no longer get to beat up on Sale anymore. I’m not even joking, out of all teams that Sale has recorded more than one start against in his career, Sale’s ERA was at its worst when he faced the Twins. Look! I even sorted the Baseball Reference table and took a screenshot just to prove it!

No, what’s going to hurt the Twins the most will be the players coming back from the trade. The smaller names coming to join the White Sox organization is reliever Victor Diaz, a 22-year old righty that utilized a high-90s fastball to generate a stellar 58% groundball rate (the 2016 MLB average was 44.7%) and 20-year old outfielder Luis Alexander Basabe, a player that profiles at worst as a backup but has the speed and power to be the Sox’s center fielder of the future if he just makes better contact at the plate.

Even if you haven’t heard of him, this is a name that you should remember and that is Michael Kopech. A righthanded pitcher, Kopech supposedly threw a 105 MPH fastball in a 2016 minor league game as a starter. One would think a starter should be conserving his energy for six innings, but Kopech has the arm strength to blow 100 past hitters with regularity. MLB Trade Rumors cites a Baseball America article where an “evaluator” compared Kopech to a young Noah Syndergaard. Though he’s just 20 years old and hasn’t yet pitched above High-A, it sounds as if Kopech’s talent could put him in Guaranteed Rate Field in just a few years. If his control (he did average 5 walks per 9 innings in 2016) doesn’t improve, then he becomes a reliever and that rumored 105 MPH fastball might become reality.

Finally, we get to the big fish and this is rather appropriate considering I briefly talked about him last week: infielder Yoan Moncada. Due to his youth (he was 19 when he was signed), the Red Sox weren’t allowed to give him a major league contract and instead circumvented MLB rules by handing the Cuban-born Moncada a $31.5 million signing bonus spread out over three years, getting hit with a 100% tax in the meantime for outspending their allotted international pool. In the same MLB Trade Rumors article above, it’s cited that the Red Sox will pay the remainder of Moncada’s signing bonus, making this trade an even bigger win for the White Sox.

How exactly do I describe Moncada? Well, the 21-year old switch-hitter struck out over 30% of the time in Double-A last year. That’s where the list of cons ends. After hitting .307/.427/.496 over 61 games at High-A, Moncada was promoted to Double-A where he hit .277/.379/.531 over 45 games in spite of his sky-high strikeout rate. As if that wasn’t enough, he stole a combined 46 bases in 59 attempts,* walked an elite ~14% of the time, and earned a promotion to the major leagues in September.

* Moncada sprained his ankle in August which contributed to him tallying just nine stolen bases at Double-A.

There is certainly some risk to Moncada due to his strikeout rate and he shouldn’t be expected to storm out of the gate upon receiving his first extended look in the bigs, but Baseball America’s Ben Badler stated that Moncada has the talent and athleticism to make the adjustments necessary to succeed. Brett Lawrie and Todd Frazier aren’t going to be covering second and third base forever, making Moncada a top-notch option to supplant either of them when the time is right. Additionally, it’s been said that his athleticism is so great that he could easily find himself in the corner outfield as well.

Though it will sting for White Sox fans that they’ve lost the face of their franchise, the organization made an excellent trade and has set itself up for a greater chance of success within a couple years. Now, it’ll be interesting to see if they choose to continue with the fire sale by trading Quintana, Robertson, possibly Abreu, and even Eaton, or if this was merely a half-measure as we’ve come to see under the direction of Williams and Hahn.