By now, Braves fans have fallen all over themselves trying to come up with offers for Chris Sale that won’t cost pieces that are needed to win now. With all the rumors floating about that Atlanta is “in on him” – and seriously according to some of them – anything you’ve come up with that doesn’t include at least two of Ender Inciarte, Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Sean Newcomb probably just isn’t enough. While that might be fair “value” (as well as not totally a killer for everyone’s Braves’ roster projections for the near future), is there a better approach that would still add that top-of-the-rotation arm to pair with Julio Teheran that could make this team arguably as big a threat in the near future?
I still maintain there’s a better fit that makes more sense, could be acquired for far less, would be under control for longer, and fit just as well. Of course that guy is…
Make no mistake, I’m nowhere near foolish enough to sit here and say that Archer’s a better Pitcher than Sale – I’d have an enormous amount of trouble taking anyone seriously who did. What I am saying, however, is that Archer is as good a fit for the Braves and makes far more sense to me when you look at the big picture.
The stories in the media say that Coppy’s talking to everyone about the biggest fish that are supposedly swimming in the “available” waters – Sale, Archer, Sonny Gray – but the argument here is that the acquisition cost for Sale is simply too high, particularly when you might be able to get a very similar Pitcher for a relative “pittance” compared to what he’ll cost. According to recent reports, the asking price to pry Sale away is said to be even higher than it was last summer – when you had big market teams with deep farm systems (the Dodgers, Red Sox, and Rangers to name a few) square in the middle of the chase to prevent the Cubs from finally ending their epic run of futility. All three of those franchises have both the type of prospects to land Sale AND (perhaps even more importantly) the financial means to retain his services when his present contract ends following 2019.
Ken Rosenthal’s column this morning (http://www.foxsports.com/mlb/story/chris-sale-trade-white-sox-red-sox-rangers-dodgers-nationals-astros-braves-112816) addressed a handful of players that could be “deal-breakers” in the event the White Sox draw a line in the sand and say “we’re not trading him unless we get Player X”. Dansby Swanson was one of those six he named, and you have to think (or at least hope) that no matter how close the two sides could come to agreeing on the other players to be involved that Coppy would just say “thanks but no thanks” if his name were introduced into conversations.
Don’t misunderstand, this is in no way a reflection of Sale’s value – if you leave Clayton Kershaw out of the conversation, Sale is probably the first name out of most observers’ mouths when discussing the best Pitcher in baseball today – nor is it a proclamation that Swanson’s on his way to a Hall Of Fame career after his first 129 big league ABs. This is much more about timing. The Braves desperately want an “Ace” to pair with Julio Teheran at the top of their rotation to give them that dynamic 1-2 punch that most teams with serious designs on making deep playoff runs have – Jon Lester/Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish/Cole Hamels, Madison Bumgarner/Johnny Cueto, Max Scherzer/Stephen Strasburg, Justin Verlander/Jordan Zimmerman (before last season). A Sale/Teheran pairing would give the Braves as much of a chance to beat those teams as anyone, so it’s easy to understand the reason the Braves are interested in adding another front-line Starting Pitcher. The problem with including at least two of the four players I mentioned (Inciarte, Swanson, Albies, and Newcomb) to get Sale would significantly hinder your chances to seriously challenge for a World Series title while you still control Sale.
Enter the Rays and Archer. Following a down first half of 2016, Archer made adjustments and showed why he’s been one of the most-coveted SPs in the game by posting a line of…
14 starts, 5-7, 3.25 ERA, 1.007 WHIP, while allowing only 73 hits in 91.1 IP, striking out 10.1 batters per 9 IP, a 5.42 K/BB Ratio, and a .215/.260/.360/.620 slash line.
Now compare that to Sale’s second half…
14 starts, 3-7, 3.28 ERA, 1.003 WHIP, while allowing 86 hits in 101.2 IP, striking out 9.7 batters per 9 IP, a 5.79 K/BB Ratio, and a .230/.286/.369/.655 slash line.
Those two Pitchers looked A LOT alike during the latter part of 2016, and just about every team in baseball would fall all over themselves to plug them into their rotations. The difference? A trade for Archer gives the Braves that 1-2 punch THROUGH 2020 – which is when Teheran’s contract is currently set to expire, and Archer is controllable through 2021. Another big difference is that Tampa Bay is in a constant state of rebuilding given their financial limitations, making them a better candidate to accept prospects that are a bit younger and further away than Chicago is. If you have to include Inciarte and Swanson to land Sale, you then have to move Albies back to SS and deal with the initial struggles both he and Mallex Smith will inevitably deal with as they adjust to becoming everyday players at the MLB-level, PLUS you still have question marks at 2B and 3B (not to mention behind the plate). Even if you assume Albies and Smith can become productive following 2017, you only have Sale for two seasons – meaning you’re back to the same place you were when the Braves traded for Mark Teixeira years ago with two shots at winning it all before he eventually leaves for more money than Atlanta can afford to offer him.
The $64,000 question posed here is…
Would an offer of Newcomb, Travis Demeritte, Austin Riley, and Joey Wentz or Kyle Muller be enough to get Matt Silverman and the Rays’ brass to part with Archer?
If Coppy’s serious about landing a true “Ace”, that’s a discussion I’d have before I’d get any deeper in talks to acquire Chris Sale because it allows you to keep all the closest to “MLB-ready” pieces that the Braves need to compete over the next 5 years.