BOSTON — Dave Dombrowski was taking questions from reporters in the home dugout at Fenway Park on Monday when his cellphone beeped to alert him of an incoming text message.
“That could be a trade [offer] right there,” the Boston Red Sox president of baseball operations said. “I don’t know. It’s that time of year.”
Indeed, baseball’s nonwaiver trade deadline is now less than a week away, and after consecutive last-place seasons, the back-in-contention Red Sox are all-in again as buyers. Dombrowski recently made four deals in a seven-day span and said he received five fresh proposals before 5 p.m. Monday, none of which was particularly close to coming to fruition.
It may be that Dealin’ Dave, aggressive as he is, stands pat this week. Publicly, at least, he’s saying the Red Sox are “not looking to necessarily do something significant” and noting the increasingly imminent returns of several injured players, including closer Craig Kimbrel.
But it must be awfully tempting, especially when those calls and text messages roll in from the South Side of Chicago, for Dombrowski to ponder the possibility of a true blockbuster, one that would bring White Sox ace Chris Sale to Boston.
Sale is 27, left-handed and a perennial Cy Young Award candidate with the most club-friendly contract in the majors, a deal that will pay him $12 million next year and includes team options for 2018-19 that are worth $12.5 million and $13.5 million, respectively. He also will miss one start while he serves a five-game, team-imposed suspension for reportedly cutting up the 1976 navy, collared throwback uniforms that the White Sox were scheduled to wear last Saturday night. It isn’t his first dispute with the team either. In spring training, Sale blasted management for restricting the clubhouse access of then-first baseman Adam LaRoche’s 14-year-old son.
The White Sox already were rumored to be listening to offers on Sale, with the entirely reasonable expectation that they wanted a massive haul in return. As one American League talent evaluator noted Monday night, there’s little precedent for the trade of a player who combines Sale’s talent and affordability. The Philadelphia Phillies extracted a prospect-rich package from the Texas Rangers last July for Cole Hamels because the ace lefty is controllable through at least 2018. But Hamels also had about $85 million left on his contract at the time of the trade.
For Sale, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn can ask for almost anything in return and it wouldn’t seem like too much.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, have the inventory of talent to acquire almost any player they want. Between their group of young All-Stars in the big leagues (right fielder Mookie Betts, shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.) and a treasure-trove of elite prospects led by second baseman Yoan Moncada, center fielder Andrew Benintendi and right-hander Michael Kopech, they are one of the few teams that can present the Herschel Walker package that would compel the White Sox to send Sale away.
See what we mean by tempting?
The Red Sox would be foolish to categorically rule out a move for Sale, and Dombrowski said nothing Monday that would indicate they have. On a number of occasions, he categorized their approach to the deadline as “open-minded” and declined to label any players in the organization as “untouchable,” even while acknowledging he would be more hard-pressed to move some players than others.
“Really, the simple reality is, let’s just say you have an All-Star player. He’s a very good player. If somebody offers you four All-Star players for him, you’re going to trade that guy most likely,” Dombrowski said. “That’s why I never use that phrase [untouchable]. I think you’ve got to be open-minded to listen to what’s out there. I think that’s very important.”
In an interview with MLB.com on Monday, Sale said he doesn’t want to be traded. But he also said he told manager Robin Ventura and pitching coach Don Cooper last Friday that he didn’t want to wear the untucked throwback uniforms because he found them to be uncomfortable and was disappointed they didn’t fight harder on his behalf for a different jersey.
It’s unclear whether Sale’s relationship with the White Sox is irreparably damaged by the incident. If it is, there will still be time to trade him. He’s expected to rejoin the team Thursday, five days before the deadline.
Dombrowski noted Monday that the market has a way of changing as the deadline draws near. Last year, for instance, when Dombrowski was running the Detroit Tigers’ baseball operations, he didn’t put ace David Price, outfielder Yoenis Cespedes or reliever Joakim Soria on the market until a few days before the deadline.
“If you wait, I remember last year at the very end, I’m not going to say who, but I remember there were a couple clubs that were looking for [a big return], and on July 31, they were calling around and saying, ‘Would you take this guy?'” Dombrowski said. “That could happen this year, too. I think it’s a fun time. It’s something we really need to keep abreast of, and our people do a good job of that.”
So, Dombrowski’s phone will continue beeping and ringing until next Monday, the White Sox undoubtedly checking in from time to time. And if they really decide to sell Sale, well, then it will get interesting.