To begin, a mea culpa: I predicted Chris Sale would remain a member of the Chicago White Sox until at least the 2017 trade deadline.

Sure, Sale is still on the Sox’s payroll as I type these words, but the rumblings from the winter meetings Monday indicated he’s likely to swap uniforms.

If so, he’ll become the meetings’ landscape-altering figure and possibly the biggest game-changer of the entire offseason.

First, the latest rumors. There is a “legitimate chance” Sale will be dealt to the Washington Nationals, per Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal. Right-hander Lucas Giolito and outfielder Victor Roblesthe Nats’ No. 1 and No. 2 prospects respectively, per—are included in the talks, Rosenthal added.

That tells you where the White Sox’s demands sit—namely, somewhere north of the mesosphere.

Washington isn’t the only club sniffing around. The Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves are also in the mix, per Joel Sherman of the New York Post. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds the Boston Red Sox to the Sale sweepstakes as well.

Wherever he lands, Sale will have a Richter scale-jolting impact.

The 27-year-old five-time All-Star has eclipsed 200 strikeouts in each of the last four seasons and thrown more than 200 innings in three of them. He’s finished among the top six in American League Cy Young balloting every year since 2012.

He’s averaged 10.04 strikeouts per nine innings since his debut in 2010, the sixth-highest total among active pitchers.

Adding another layer of whipped cream to the stud-flavored sundae, he’s under contract for the next three seasonsfor $12 million in 2017, a $12.5 million team option in 2018 and a $13.5 million team option in 2019.

Pitchers of Sale’s age, pedigree and affordability don’t slide onto the trading block often. To find a reasonable comparison, you might have to go all the way back to November 1997, when the Montreal Expos sent 26-year-old Pedro Martinez to the Red Sox for Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr.

That’s a cautionary tale, obviously, considering Pavano and Armas failed to transform the Expos, and Pedro did a few memorable things in Beantown, if memory serves.

That’s not to say Chicago shouldn’t move Sale. The White Sox endured their fourth consecutive losing season in 2016, going 78-84 and finishing 16.5 games out in the AL Central.

If they can swap Sale for a bevy of blue-chip talent, they should take the plunge.

Chicago can be picky. The pool of free-agent starting pitchers is vanishingly shallow, especially now that the Los Angeles Dodgers have re-upped Rich Hill for three years and $48 million, per Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times.

Hill will turn 37 in March and has a checkered injury history. Los Angeles just inked him through his age-39 season for an average annual value of $16 million.

That tells you all you need to know about Sale’s sticker price.

“You have to have four prospects who can’t possibly miss,” White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf said of dealing his ace, per CSN Chicago’s Chuck Garfien.

The Nationals could meet that threshold even without moving speedy budding star Trea Turner. Slotting Sale into their starting five next to reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg would put Washington on par with the defending champion Chicago Cubs.

Boston, likewise, has the requisite MiLB ammunition and could pair Sale with fellow southpaw David Price and AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello.

Because of his slender frame and unusual mechanics, there’s some concern Sale could succumb to injuries.

“He reminds you of Tim Lincecum,” an unnamed rival evaluator said, per’s Buster Olney. “When Lincecum was drafted, everybody wondered: OK, how long can this little thin guy keep throwing that hard? He was great for a while, and then his performance declined dramatically.”

White Sox general manager Rick Hahn dismissed the notion.

“Come on,” Hahn told reporters. “Did you see what this guy has done in our uniform over the years? We’re as excited to have Chris Sale in our uniform today as the day we drafted him. And [we] realize this is an elite-level talent, a rare commodity in this league and a great, great competitor.”

Anywhere he winds up, Sale will tilt the balance of power.

He’s not the only interesting storyline at these winter meetings. Other marquee names could move via trade, including Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen, Tampa Bay Rays right-hander Chris Archer and the Detroit Tigers’ trove of veteran talent.

Sale, however, is the biggest domino out there. He’s teetering. And, contrary to my prior prognostication, he’s likely to fall.

If and when he does, you’d better believe it’ll make a sound.


All statistics and contract information courtesy of and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.

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