With the trade deadline steadily approaching, A's Nation is abuzz with debate on how to improve our roster for the second half of the season and hopefully spur a playoff run in October. Much time and attention have been given--and rightfully so--to the A's' need for a new middle infielder, be it a second baseman or shortstop, to kill "Sogales" and elevate our lineup into "elite" status.
Equally alluring is the possibility of acquiring a new arm, but it's here where the discussion needs some focusing. The A's aren't in need of another "solid starter" any more than they are in need of another "solid outfielder" (Cespedes, Coco, Reddick, Smith, and Young give Oakland the
best deepest OF in the Majors). Colon, Parker, Griffin, Milone, and Straily can carry a team to the playoffs; add in Anderson's hopeful return and Gray's stellar numbers in Sacramento and the A's are looking just fine rotation-wise. But if the A's really want to make a run for a World Series ring, they'll need to acquire a bona fide Ace--and they need to do it now.
Starting pitching plays an inflated role in playoff baseball: during the regular season a healthy SP will start one-fifth of his team's games; in the ALDS, that doubles. A's fans watched nervously last year as Justin Verlander single-handedly earned two of the Tigers' three wins, posting a 0.56 ERA, and 0.750 WHIP with 22 Ks over 16 innings in the ALDS. The problem for Oakland is that the A's don't currently own a reliable Ace, and it's an issue that we'll understand much more poignantly come October if we don't act now. Bartolo Colon is the closest thing we have to a true #1, and although he's pitched like an Ace thus far, age, weight, and Biogenesis concerns make Fat Bart a major question mark going forward. Anderson has the ability to pitch like an Ace, but his frequent trips to the DL don't fare well for his reliability. Parker is a great postseason #2 or #3, but no Ace.
Enter Chris Sale.
I don't need to discuss Sale's talent here. Any baseball fan knows the 24-year-old possesses Cy Young caliber stuff. But he also owns something that makes him even more valuable to a team like the A's: a five-year (seven counting team options), heavily back-loaded contract. This contract would enable Beane to sell the farm right now for Sale, get three and a half years of major production from one of the best pitchers in the game at an incredibly good cost (18.8 mil./3.5 years), and sell Sale for a load of young talent right before his contract gets too expensive in 2017 (jumps to 12 mil./year). The beauty is that Sale's value shouldn't diminish over that stretch, and with team options on his contract in 2018 and 2019, he'll look just as desirable to teams in 2017 as he does now. We'd take a major hit--and it would have to be really huge--to our farm system in the meantime but it would be calculated and temporary, as we'd replenish the system with the haul of prospects we get for dealing Sale later on. Beane wouldn't be selling the farm so much as he'd be leasing it.
And more, we'd be getting Sale at a time that coincides perfectly with Oakland's current "window" of success. Cespedes, Donaldson, Reddick, Norris, Parker, Griffin, Straily, and Milone are all under team control until at least 2016. Anderson has team options through 2015. Coco, Smith, and Young are under team control through 2014 (we'd almost certainly pick up Coco's option, but we'd likely let Young walk). The point is, the A's' best chance to win a World Series starts right now and continues for the next couple of years. Trading for Sale would give us the Ace we need over that stretch to duel guys like Darvish and Verlander. We'd only spend an average of 6 mil./year on him, and his trade value would never falter thanks to his youth, meaning we can replenish the farm right as the "window" closes.
I'd expect the package for Sale would need to be even more impressive than what the Padres got for Matt Latos. I'm thinking Addison Russell, Sonny Gray, Grant Green/Jemile Weeks, and Michael Choice could potentially do it. The White Sox currently sit 13 games under .500 and 10.5 back from the lead in the AL Central. Prying Sale away, no matter how "untouchable" Chicago's front office might claim he is, is certainly a possibility. Get it done Billy.