At the end of the 2016 season, the White Sox found themselves at a remove from recent success. They hadn’t posted a winning record since 2012 and hadn’t made the postseason since 2008. There was some talent on the roster but it was decided that it was time to hit the reset button. After much speculation, they gave a clear indication that they were going into a rebuild in December of 2016 when they traded left-hander Chris Sale to the Red Sox for prospects Yoán Moncada, Michael Kopech, Luis Alexander Basabe and Victor Diaz.
Sale was already well established as one of the better pitchers in the game. At the time of the trade, he had thrown 1110 innings with an even ERA of 3.00, striking out 27.9% of batters faced while walking just 5.8% and getting grounders at a solid 43.8% clip. The White Sox had signed him to an extension going into 2013, a deal that ran through 2017 but with two affordable club options after that. Flipping an excellent pitcher with three affordable years of control left little doubt that a significant teardown was beginning.
The trade worked out very well for the Red Sox, as they would make the postseason in two of those three years with Sale, including winning the World Series in 2018. They then signed him to another extension going into 2019, which is a separate matter. Injuries have largely prevented him from providing much value on that deal, but the trade still looks like a success. They gave up some future talent but saw Sale post a 2.90 ERA in 2017 and then a 2.11 in 2018 as they hoisted their fourth title in a span of 15 years after an 86-year drought.
For the Pale Hose, this was the first of several future-focused moves they would make around that time. The day after the Sale deal, they traded outfielder Adam Eaton to the Nationals for young pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo López and Dane Dunning. In July of 2017, they would send lefty José Quintana across town to the Cubs for a package headlined by prospects Dylan Cease and Eloy Jiménez. Many of the players involved in these deals would go on to form the core of the club as it returned to contention, alongside homegrown players like Tim Anderson and Luis Robert Jr..
The return on Sale needed to be huge, given his immense talent and three remaining years of cheap control. Indeed, the White Sox secured an incredibly significant prospect package, highlighted by Moncada. A high profile youngster out of Cuba, he signed with the Red Sox in March of 2015 for a $31.5MM bonus. This was back before the hard spending cap on international amateurs was put in place, but the Sox did have to pay a 100% tax because they had already exceeded their bonus pool figure, meaning they shelled out $63MM to get Moncada into the system.
He then played incredibly well in Single-A in 2015, hitting .278/.380/.438 for a wRC+ of 135. In 2016, he shot through High-A and Double-A and even made an eight-game debut in the majors. He struggled in that first taste of the show but was still just 21 years old at the time of the trade and was considered one of the top prospects in the league. Baseball America ranked him the #3 prospect in baseball going into 2016 and #2 in 2017.
Prospects with such high rankings are rarely traded, so it was a significant haul for the White Sox. The Red Sox likely have few regrets since Sale helped them to another title, but that wasn’t all Chicago got in return. Kopech was a notable prospect in his own right, having been selected in the first round of the 2014 draft. He had shown good form in the lower levels of the minors and was also on BA’s top 100 list, coming in at #89 in 2016 and was eventually placed #32 going into 2017. Basabe was a bit behind those two but was still an intriguing player, ranked Boston’s #9 prospect in 2016 and then Chicago’s #8 prospect going into 2017. Diaz was the least notable of the bunch but still cracked BA’s list of top White Sox farmhands after the deal, getting the #26 spot.
Moncada would scuffle a bit in his first two seasons in Chicago. Over 2017 and 2018, he walked in 10.9% of his trips to the plate but also struck out in 33% of them. He did hit 25 combined home runs over those two years but his .234/.321/.403 batting line amounted to a wRC+ of 99, a hair below league average. In 2019, he finally broke out and showed why he had been so touted as a prospect. He launched 25 more homers that year and slashed .315/.367/.548 for a wRC+ of 139. He was also graded well for his third base defense and stole 10 bases, leading to a tally of 5.5 wins above replacement from FanGraphs, making him one of the top 20 position players that year. 2020 was set to be his final year of club control, but the White Sox decided they believed in the breakout and committed to Moncada. The two sides agreed in March of 2020 to a $70MM extension that runs through 2024 and has a club option for 2025.
It’s been a bit of a mixed bag since that deal was inked. Moncada slumped a bit in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season but the club went 35-25 and qualified for the postseason for the first time since 2008. He was back on form in 2021, hitting just 14 home runs but walking at an excellent 13.6% rate. His .263/.375/.412 line translated to a 120 wRC+ and he continued to get good grades for his glovework, leading to a 4.0 fWAR season. The Sox went 93-69 and topped the American League Central, making the postseason in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history.
2022 was a frustrating season for both player and team. Moncada made trips to the injured list for an oblique strain, a right hamstring strain and then a left hamstring strain. He got into just 104 games and didn’t play up to his usual standard when on the field. He was one of many injuries that held the club back, as they finished 81-81 and failed to extend their postseason run into a third year. He roared out of the gates here in 2023, hitting .308/.325/.564 in nine games, but he’s been on the injured list for a few weeks now due to a protruding disc in his back that’s touching a nerve.
Though he’s been inconsistent, Moncada has shown the capacity to be an excellent player when everything is clicking and he’s been a key part of the club’s recent success. It’s hard to say the same for Kopech, however, as various circumstances have prevented him from reaching the heights that had previously been imagined for him. By the time the 2018 season rolled around, Kopech was considered by BA to be the #11 prospect in the league. That year, he thrived in Triple-A, posting a 3.70 ERA over 24 starts while striking out 31.3% of batters faced. He got called up to the majors in August but made just four starts before requiring Tommy John surgery, which wiped out the remainder of that season as well as his 2019. He then opted out of the 2020 pandemic season, returning to the club in 2021. Since he had missed two whole seasons, he was kept in relief that year. He fared well in that role, registering a 3.50 ERA in 69 1/3 innings, striking out 36.1% of batters faced.
He had built up a decent innings total that would allow him to return to the rotation in 2022, but the reins weren’t completely off. He made trips to the injured list for a knee strain and shoulder inflammation, tossing 119 1/3 innings on the year. He finished with a 3.54 ERA but a diminished 21.3% strikeout rate. A .223 batting average on balls in play likely helped him skate by, with his 4.50 FIP and 4.73 SIERA showing a bit less enthusiasm. He’s struggled out of the gates early here in 2023, with a 7.01 ERA after five starts.
As for the other two players in the deal, Basabe topped out at Double-A in the White Sox’ system before getting designated for assignment in 2020. He was then traded to the Giants, who gave him a nine-game MLB stint that year before outrighting him in the winter. He returned to the White Sox on a minor league deal last year but was released after a rough showing in just nine Triple-A games. Diaz pitched in the lower levels of the system in 2017 but injuries prevented him from getting into any official action after that. His transactions tracker indicates he was officially released in 2021.
It’s too early to completely close the book on the trade from Chicago’s perspective. Moncada is still under contract through 2024 and there’s the option for 2025. Kopech can still be retained via arbitration through 2025. There’s still time for things to change, but as of right now, the deal looks like a sort of microcosm of the club’s rebuild on the whole. There have been some good moments but it hasn’t quite been the runaway success that was envisioned. Moncada has had some good years but has been inconsistent and held back by injuries. Kopech has shown flashes of his talent but hasn’t really put it all together yet.
That semi-successful return in the deal has coincided with a semi-successful stretch of contention for the club, who made the playoffs twice recently but now seem at risk of seeing it fall apart. Their 8-21 record has them in a hole that they will have to crawl out of soon or else they’ll have to consider another selloff like the one they started over six years ago.