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Are we really so sure the White Sox should trade Chris Sale?

Sale is great and under contract for three cheap seasons. Let’s think about that a little bit more.

Minnesota Twins v Chicago White Sox Photo by David Banks/Getty Images

Welcome to the hot stove league. Sit down by the hot stove and grab a rumor. They’re made from sawdust, high fructose corn syrup, and MSG, and there’s no way you can have just one. We’re talking about White Sox ace Chris Sale today, and those rumors are made with an extra ingredient: love.

And greed.

Mostly greed.

Everyone wants Sale. He’s a bona-fide ace. He’s incredibly watchable. He pitches like a wicker effigy getting sucked into a shop-vac. Everyone wants him, and it doesn’t look like the White Sox are really taking advantage of his talents, so the rumors make sense. Do the Cardinals want him? You bet they do. The Braves? Mmm-hmmm. The Nationals? Of course. Yankees? Naturally. Dodgers? Seems like the most natural fit. You can do this for just about every team. There isn’t a trade rumor about the Twins and Sale on the internet yet, but there might be after this sentence, and why not? Let them have their rumor fun, too.

There’s one team, though, that might be the best match of all. All those trade rumors up there has the team giving up all of their prospects to get Sale, but it doesn’t have to be like that. There’s one team that wouldn’t have to give up anything to get him at all.

Maybe we should take a step back and make sure that the White Sox trading Chris Sale is really such a given.

They’re listening, of course, because every team should listen. If the Astros roll up with a package made from Alex Bregman/Carlos Correa/Jose Altuve/the wish-filled monkey paw exhumed from Tal’s Hill, the White Sox will take it. But one thing I’m picking up from all these rumors is that they’re presented as fait accompli, as if there’s just no other option.

Except one of the other options would be to keep Sale for three more years. It might even be the likeliest option, if we start looking at what the White Sox have to gain or lose. He helps teams win baseball games, and that’s still what they’re trying to do, even if the rest of the league would like to pretend it’s not. He’s talented, young, and cheap enough to fall under the Miguel Cabrera theory of superstar trades, which goes something like this: A team is almost always going to be disappointed with what they get back when trading their talented, young, and cheap superstar.

We looked at the rumors from when the Marlins traded Cabrera, and there were a lot of sentences like ...

It sounds like the Yankees will trade Melky Cabrera, but are very reluctant to trade Joba Chamberlain, Phil Hughes, or Ian Kennedy.

In the end, the Marlins got two blue-chip prospects, Cameron Maybin and Andrew Miller, and just about zero value from either of them. Mixed in the pile of rumors was a stray one involving Clayton Kershaw, and that’s always the dream when a team looks to trade away a perennial award candidate like Sale. Maybe they’ll get someone back who’s just as good, if not better.

Except it almost certainly doesn’t have to happen like that. If the Astros really aren’t trading Bregman, if the Yankees aren’t trading Gary Sanchez, if the Braves aren’t trading Dansby Swanson, and if the Dodgers aren’t trading Julio Urias, it’s hard to see the point for the White Sox. And it might be hard to see the point with some of those guys. They have a galloping triumvirate of doom right now, assuming Carlos Rodon develops as expected, and it takes teams decades to stumble into one of those. All the White Sox need to do is figure out the other 22 players on the roster, and they have a couple other head starts, too.

Maybe the best way to explain it is through comparison. Sale has three absurdly inexpensive years left on his contract. So does Madison Bumgarner. The reason you aren’t being subjected to a bushel of trade rumors about Bumgarner, though, is that the Giants are recently competitive. Reliably competitive, too. That makes a big difference when it comes to perception. But let’s take a step back and look at the raw numbers:

Wins in 2016
Giants, 87
White Sox, 78

The Giants were hosed a bit when it comes to their expected record, but the larger point stands. There shouldn’t be that much difference between the two situations. Talk to Bobby Evans about the possibility of getting Bregman or Swanson for Bumgarner, and he’ll throw his phone at you. The Giants have the top of the rotation covered now. They’re counting on Bumgarner now. Forget the blue-chip prospects and six years of team control. It’s not even a passing thought.

Is the difference between that mindset and a team thinking they need to trade their ace for prospects really just nine wins? If so, maybe there’s a way the White Sox can get those nine wins back this offseason by, I don’t know, trying. Not that they haven’t been trying in the past — they’ve been quite active, trying to do this very thing — but this might be the season they build on what they’ve been doing. If they need a catcher, it’s a fine offseason for catchers. If they need a DH, it’s a fine offseason for them. If they need another outfielder, there are about 100 of them around baseball, so they can get as creative as they want.

The White Sox have a projected payroll of just under $110 million, so they probably can’t climb over the ramparts of the offseason and sign Yoenis Cespedes, Justin Turner, and Matt Wieters, but they can make a big signing and a reasonable trade. Or a reasonable signing or a big trade. Or six reasonable moves that make sense all around. And if they make those trades, it’s not as if the general reaction would be, “Whoa, why are the White Sox trying to get better?” It would be more like, “Yeah, that makes sense. They want to build a competitive team around Chris Sale, and they aren’t that far away.”

Which is probably a pretty good indication that while trading Sale could happen, it isn’t necessarily something that should happen.

If a team wants Sale, they’ll have to blow off some socks, and it’s going to be hard to do, considering the socks are right there in the name. Think, people. More importantly, he’s an ace who makes sense for every contending team for very obvious reasons, so maybe it’s time for the White Sox to figure out how to be a contending team.

If they screw it up somehow, the same teams will line up for Sale in July and next December. If they finally contend over these next three seasons, though, they’ll have one of the best head starts to any possible postseason roster. That’s a baseball dream worth fighting for. And it might make the most sense out of any of the possible permutations.