White Sox on verge of gaining upper hand in the Chris Sale trade

The Chris Sale trade is not only balancing out for the White Sox, it's beginning to look like a lopsided deal.

That's a drastic change from the early aftermath of the blockbuster deal that sent the ace starting pitcher from Chicago to Boston.

“It's never easy to trade a pitcher the caliber of Chris Sale,” White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said on Dec. 6, 2016, the day the trade was made. “It was not an easy phone call to make, but one, quite frankly, based upon the return that we were able to procure in this trade, was one that we were extremely excited about making.”

In exchange for Sale, a top-end starter with an electric left arm and one of the nastiest sliders of all time, the White Sox received prospects Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz.

Sale paid immediate dividends after changing Sox.

In 2017, his first year at the top of Boston's rotation, Sale set a franchise record for a lefty with 308 strikeouts while going 17-8 with a 2.90 ERA.

The Red Sox made it to the playoffs in Sale's first season but were eliminated by the Astros in the American League division series.

The following year, Sale made only 7 starts after the all-star break due to a sore throwing shoulder, but he still managed to go 12-4 with a 2.11 ERA and 237 strikeouts in 158 innings.

Sale was back on the mound in the postseason and helped the Red Sox win the World Series.

That's a significant victory for Boston in the trade, but the White Sox made up some big ground last year.

Sale signed a five-year, $145 million contract in the spring of 2019, but his velocity was way down last season and he put up the worst numbers (6-11, 4.40 ERA) of his career.

At the same time, Moncada started realizing his massive potential last year.

After leading the major leagues with 217 strikeouts in 2018, Moncada cut that total to 154 last season while raising his batting average from .235 to .315.

The switch-hitting third baseman also had 34 doubles, 25 home runs and 79 RBI.

The White Sox feel Moncada is already at — or close to — a superstar level, and they rewarded the 24-year-old infielder with a five-year, $70 million contract in early March.

“My confidence level is very high right now after what I did last season,” Moncada said.

Kopech missed all of last year recovering from Tommy John surgery, but the 23-year-old righty is 100% and was back to throwing 100 mph in his first Cactus League outing before the coronavirus pandemic shut down the game.

While he might pitch at Class AAA Charlotte when the season does open, Kopech should soon force his way into the Sox's rotation and some oddsmakers consider him the favorite for AL Rookie of the Year honors.

Diaz never panned out for the White Sox in the Sale trade, but Basabe is still a promising prospect.

Rated No. 16 in the Sox's system by Baseball America, Basabe has all the tools to be a productive major-league outfielder.

Health has been the lone issue. Knee surgery cut his 2017 season short, and Basabe was limited to 74 games last year with hamstring, quad and hand injuries.

Even if Basabe bogs down in the minor leagues and never makes it to the majors, the trade is looking good for the White Sox. When the season does get going, the deal could be upgraded to great.

Moncada and Kopech have all-star talent and they are both going to play key roles in the Sox's expected resurgence.

Sale, on the other hand, is facing Tommy John surgery and is not expected to be back on the mound until some point in 2021.

Considering his big fastball was often clocked under 90 mph last season, the argument can be made Sale and the Red Sox wasted precious time by delaying the inevitable elbow procedure.

Boston is also paying Sale $30 million this season and next, massive sums for a team that already cleared needed payroll space by trading star outfielder Mookie Betts and David Price to the Dodgers.

Sale does have a World Series ring with Boston and the White Sox haven't even been to the playoffs since 2008.

It is still Advantage: Red Sox in the trade, but the White Sox are going to be feeling like big winners once the season does get going.

Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Chris Sale delivers to the Chicago White Sox in the first inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park, Friday, June 8, 2018, in Boston. Associated Press
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