Pulling away from Sale deal a test of dis­ci­pline

Na­tion­als reach break­ing point, pivot to other play­ers

The Washington Times Daily - - SPORTS - BY TODD DYBAS

OXON HILL, MD. | The ar­gu­ment Bos­ton Red Sox gen­eral man­ager Dave Dom­browski made for ac­quir­ing pitcher Chris Sale went like this: We are try­ing to win now, and we have prospect depth, so why not roll some of it out when one of the game’s best pitch­ers came avail­able?

That’s the same ar­gu­ment the Wash­ing­ton Na­tion­als would have made if they had traded for Sale, a left-handed starter who makes an­nual ap­pear­ances at the All-Star Game and in Cy Young vot­ing. Wash­ing­ton has prospects. Its gen­eral man­ager pushed aside a per­sonal ret­i­cence that ac­com­pa­nies the idea of trad­ing high-end prospects. Through Mon­day night and into Tues­day morn­ing, the Na­tion­als worked to pull-in Sale, at­tempt­ing to com­plete in­for­mal talks that be­gan weeks ago then kicked up in pace dur­ing the Win­ter Meet­ings at Na­tional Har­bor.

They reached a break­ing point in ask­ing price, then pulled away. The Red Sox went forth with a mas­sive pack­age topped by in­fielder Yoan Mon­cada, the top prospect in base­ball, pitcher Michael Kopech, who has thrown a base­ball 105 mph, and two other touted prospects. Plus, the Red Sox were putting aside the $31.5 mil­lion sign­ing bonus (plus more money) they gave Mon­cada in 2015.

“We felt we reached as far as we were go­ing to reach for the trade, and we fell short,” Na­tion­als gen­eral man­ager Mike Rizzo said.

Mon­day and Tues­day were both tests of dis­ci­pline for Rizzo. The San Fran­cisco Giants of­fered closer Mark Me­lan­con more money and in­cluded a no-trade close. He signed with them in­stead of re­turn­ing to the Na­tion­als. In their pur­suit of Sale, the Na­tion­als were re­port­edly un­will­ing to in­clude cen­ter fielder Trea Turner in the deal. Rizzo did not spec­ify the tip­ping point, but that’s a likely one. Mov­ing the flex­i­ble Turner af­ter his dy­namic half sea­son just cre­ates more holes on the ros­ter, un­der­min­ing the boost Sale would pro­vide.

Rizzo did agree with Dom­browski on one point: A pitcher the ilk of Sale — who is a five-time all-star and the sec­ond-best left-handed pitcher in base­ball — is a rare com­mod­ity on the trade mar­ket. The Red Sox did not ar­rive at the Win­ter Meet­ings with a fo­cus on start­ing pitch­ing. It was more that they were no­ti­fied Dec. 2 in a phone call that Sale was avail­able in a trade, so they be­gan their chase to add to a staff that has two pitch­ers who have won a Cy Young Award. The Na­tion­als were af­ter lux­ury in the same man­ner, as op­posed to track­ing need.

Be­yond his stan­dard numbers, Sale would have given Wash­ing­ton tremen­dous im­pact in its pur­suit to move for­ward in the play­offs. First, he would be able to switch leagues, jet­ti­son­ing the des­ig­nated hit­ter for an op­pos­ing pitcher in the lineup. Sec­ond, he would be key for the Na­tion­als to fight left-hand heavy foes in the New York Mets and Los An­ge­les Dodgers. In the last three years, left-han­ders have 77 hits against Sale. He has struck out 138 of them. Last, any­one in the Na­tional League or be­yond who wants to un­seat the jug­ger­naut Chicago Cubs are likely to need a non-tra­di­tional route to catch up.

“I re­ally thought for sure he was go­ing to end up in Wash­ing­ton,” Mets man­ager Terry Collins said. “I re­ally did. We dodged a bul­let.”

But by din­ner time for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive day, the Na­tion­als had lost out in their chase of a player. First, Me­lan­con, who was much more of a ros­ter need than Sale. Then, Sale, smash­ing day­dreams of a ro­ta­tion fea­tur­ing Max Scherzer, Stephen Stras­burg and Sale for at least the next three sea­sons.

“We put a lot of ef­fort into it and thought we made a good valiant ef­fort at ac­quir­ing a re­ally good pitcher and we fell short,” Rizzo said. “We feel good about the play­ers we kept in not do­ing a Sale deal, but ob­vi­ously a great pitcher went over to the Red Sox.”

The Na­tion­als now pivot to­ward Pitts­burgh’s An­drew McCutchen, among other out­field­ers, and a closer. A move that would solve both is­sues could in­volve ac­quir­ing Kansas City out­fielder Lorenzo Cain and closer Wade Davis. The op­tions are vast.

“We have a Plan A through Plan Z,” Rizzo said.

They are at least onto Plan C.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Chicago White Sox traded all-star pitcher Chris Sale to the Bos­ton Red Sox on Tues­day.

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